A woman who had been a repeated victim of marital rape petitioned the Supreme Court of Nepal to make sentencing for marital rape on par with sentencing for other types of rape. The Court found that punishing marital rape differently from other forms of rape violated equal rights provisions in the Interim Constitution and international law, especially considering that prior sentencing guidelines of three to six months put the victim in danger of repeated violence and rape. Although the Court did not have the power to change sentencing terms on existing offences, it directed the legislative authorities to change sentencing terms for marital rape, showing recognition of the gravity of rape as a violation of rights and dignity while also exhibiting a proactive will to reform legal codes in the name of equality.
Women and Justice: Keywords
A petition claimed that the traditional practice of electing young girls as Kumaris, or “goddesses”, who are expected to follow certain social restrictions and appear at religious festivals violated the rights of the child. After ordering a study the Court found that this practice did not prevent the Kumari from getting an education or qualify as child labor. Rather, the Court found Kumaris to be an important cultural and religious institution and ordered compensation for former Kumaris who had not been socially reintegrated and ordered a study to find recommendations for preserving the rights, interests, and social security of current and ex-Kumaris. This case shows an astute consideration of the balance between cultural preservation and child’s rights in a country with deep cultural and religious traditions. Additionally, it sets the important precedent of considering the practical well-being and rights of the child before implementing human rights reforms.
The Forum for Women, Law and Development in Nepal brought a petition to the Supreme Court filing for an exhaustive law ensuring privacy for vulnerable groups; particularly women, children, and persons living with HIV/AIDS. The Court ruled that enforcing the right to privacy for these and other sensitive parties in legal proceedings is inextricable from other Constitutional rights, including life and dignity, and vital to ensuring justice. Therefore, the Court ordered a directive for a law to be passed ensuring the right to privacy and set forth detailed guidelines for maintaining privacy to be followed in the interim. This ruling guarantees a crucial right to victims of gender violence and other abuses, opening a window for them to seek justice without fearing further injury from social stigma, discrimination, or retaliation. Furthermore, the ruling acknowledges that certain Constitutional rights much be positively enforced through legal codes.
Citing the prevalence of uterus prolapse in pregnant women in Nepal, the petitioner filed that the government should be responsible for providing infrastructures to support women’s reproductive health under Article 20 of the Interim Constitution of Nepal which guarantees the right to reproductive health for all women. The Court ruled that reproductive health was a right tied to all other basic human rights but that, unlike freedom of speech and others, it requires positive infrastructures to be upheld, therefore ordering that a bill be passed providing reproductive health services to pregnant women. In this ruling the Court emphasized that proactive measures must be taken to ensure that women, who face different societal and health challenges, are given the same rights as men; this marks an important distinction between guaranteeing rights and practicing equality.
The Forum for Women, Law and Development in Nepal petitioned the Supreme Court to revise a law allowing men to take second wives if their first wife is significantly ill or handicapped and gives consent. The Court found that this law was inconsistent with Article 11 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, which guarantees equal rights for women, and with international women’s rights conventions, including CEDAW. In its ruling, the court stated that a husband should care for a sick or handicapped spouse and that requiring consent could promote domestic violence. By taking action to change this law the Court showed a dedication to real reform based on the Constitutional mandate for gender equality, crucially recognizing that accepted traditional practices must be reappraised.
After hearing a petition from the Forum for Women, Law and Development in Nepal, the Supreme Court ruled to invalidate a law allowing men to seek a second wife if, after 10 years of marriage, they have not had a child with their first wife. The Court recognized that this law gave unequal treatment to women and men by not giving comparable recourse to women and implying that infertility was the fault of the woman. The law was therefore inconsistent with Article 11 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal and with international gender rights conventions including CEDAW. This ruling represents an important step in reevaluating widely accepted laws from a gender equality standpoint. In addition, the Court acknowledged that it was constitutional to employ positive discrimination to guarantee equal rights for women, allowing for proactive defense of women’s rights in Nepal.