Nepal

Last Updated 12 August 2022

Prior to a civil war between Maoist rebels and the government in 2006, the country was officially a Hindu state. In 2008, Nepal became a secular democratic republic. The new Constitution as of 2015 retains “secularism” but places restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

The Nepali population is composed of 126 castes and ethnic groups.1https://mofa.gov.np/about-nepal/nepal-profile/ According to the 2021 Census,2https://censusnepal.cbs.gov.np/Home/Details?tpid=5&dcid=57d4bc52-50ca-4acb-b7fc-20c8923831e5&tfsid=1 81% of the population are Hindu, 9% Buddhist, 4.4% Muslims (the vast majority of whom are Sunni), 3% Kirat (an indigenous religion with Hindu influence) and 1.4% Christians (of whom a large majority are Protestant and a minority Roman Catholic). Other groups, which together constitute less than 5% of the population, animists, adherents of Bon (a Tibetan religious tradition), Jains, Baha’is, and Sikhs. The number of humanist and non-religious individuals is not recorded. Humanist groups are campaigning for their inclusion in future census data collection.

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

In 2015, a new “secular” Constitution3https://www.mohp.gov.np/downloads/Constitution%20of%20Nepal%202072_full_english.pdf was announced following years of civil war. The move replaced the 1990’s Hindu monarchy. This came after a comprehensive peace agreement between democratic parties and a belligerent Maoist-led party. At the time of its creation, there was significant pressure from Hindu nationalists to revert to a Hindu state. Article 4 of the Constitution defines secular as “protection of religion and culture handed down from the time immemorial.”

Such a definition of secularity permits the government to invest heavily in religion, and may in fact be interpreted to privilege “indigenous” religious traditions such as Hinduism over “Western imports” such as Christianity. The Nepalese government funds Hindu temples and ceremonies from a federal to local level, whereas very little in comparison is spent on Buddhist and Muslim causes, and there is no public spending in place for other religions or non-religious groups.4https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

There are public holidays recognizing various religious traditions, including Buddha’s birthday, Christmas day, and Eid al-Adha.5https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/

Article 26 of the Constitution outlines the right to “freedom of religion”:

(1) Every person who has faith in religion shall have the freedom to profess, practice and protect his or her religion according to his or her conviction.
(2) Every religious denomination shall have the right to operate and protect its religious sites and religious Guthi (trusts). Provided that nothing shall be deemed to prevent the regulation, by making law, of the operation and protection of religious sites and religious trusts and management of trust properties and lands.
(3) No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion.”

The new constitution protects against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Article 18(3) reads:

“The State shall not discriminate citizens on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology or on similar other grounds.”

This is further enshrined in Article 18 the Nepali Civil Code.6http://www.moljpa.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Civil-code.pdf However, various forms of discrimination do persist, including in law.

A great deal of emphasis is placed throughout the Constitution on the promotion and protection of harmony. Indeed, the Constitution makes the promotion of mutual understanding, tolerance, and solidarity among various caste, ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural groups and communities a State priority (Article 51). As such, the law prohibits both proselytism (Article 158 of the Penal Code) and “outraging the religious feelings” of any caste, ethnic community, or class (Article 156 of the Penal Code).7http://www.moljpa.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Penal-Code-English-Revised-1.pdf

Further, Article 269 (5) states that:

“No political party shall be registered if its name, objective, symbol and flag is of a character that may disturb the country’s religious or communal unity or is divisive in character.”

However, according to the US Department of State,8https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/

“right-wing religious groups associated with the BJP in India continued to provide money to influential politicians of all parties to advocate for Hindu statehood.”

Registration of religious groups

According to the US Department of State’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom:

“Except for Buddhist monasteries, all religious groups must register as NGOs or nonprofit organizations to own land or other property, operate legally as institutions, or gain eligibility for public service-related government grants and partnerships.”

Impunity

According to Human Rights Watch,9https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/nepal

“A pervasive culture of impunity continues to undermine fundamental human rights in the country. Ongoing human rights violations by the police and army, including cases of alleged extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths resulting from torture, are rarely investigated, and when they are, alleged perpetrators are almost never arrested. […]

“Both the Oli and Deuba governments continued to block justice for conflict-era violations. The mandates of the two transitional justice commissions were once again extended, although neither has made progress since being established in 2015 to provide truth to victims, establish the fate of the “disappeared,” and promote accountability and reconciliation.”

Education and children’s rights

The Constitution guarantees free education up to secondary level (Article 31). Basic education is compulsory.

Religious Education is not part of the public school curriculum. Nevertheless, many schools have a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on school grounds. Children attending public schools are also taught ethics.

Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim groups are allowed to establish and operate their own schools. Registered religious schools and public schools receive the same level of funding from the government.

Christian schools are not able to register as community schools and thereby they are not eligible for government funding. In order to operate a private school, Christian groups must register as an NGO.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/

Child marriage

Despite being illegal since 1963, according to UNICEF Nepal still has the 17th highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world. The practice is driven by a complex web of factors, but key among them is gender discrimination, especially when combined with poverty. Discriminatory social norms mean that girls are often seen as a “burden” to be unloaded as early as possible through marriage. Traditional beliefs and social pressures also encourage child marriage. In some communities it is believed that women will go to heaven if they marry before their first period.11https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

According to Human Rights Watch,12https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/nepal

“Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia, with 33 percent of girls marrying before 18 years and 8 percent married by age 15. Among boys, 9 percent marry before the age of 18. This situation worsened during the [COVID-19] pandemic, as children were pushed out of education and families faced increased poverty.”

Deuki Pratha

Deuki Pratha is an ancient custom practiced in a rural western part of Nepal, where a young girl is offered to the local temple. Though the practice is in decline, there are still reports of girls being offered as deukis. Girls who are abandoned by their families to become deukis are deprived of educational and economic opportunities, and many deukis are forced to turn to sex work for survival.13https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

Family, community and society

Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics does not collect census data on population levels of atheism, humanism and the non religious. Therefore, the government is not taking non-believers into consideration, in a country where more than half of the 601 parliamentarians are members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Recent campaigns by Society for Humanism Nepal (the country’s sole Humanist organization and a member organization of Humanists International) have been criticized by right-wing political parties such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP).

Caste-based discrimination

Caste-based discrimination is criminalized in Nepal, although it continues to be practiced in society.14https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/01/nepal-ensure-justice-caste-based-killings; https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1065102 Inter-caste marriages and relationships are frequently punished by the community.15https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

Although Nepal’s 2015 Constitution established a National Dalit Commission to promote the rights of the Dalit community, the Commission has remained “toothless” as the government has not appointed any commissioners, according to SOCH Nepal.16https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

Harmful traditional practices

Various traditional and cultural practices, known as ‘kuriti’, are carried out in violation of fundamental human rights. Kuriti are regarded by many as “holy” matters, forming part of the identity of a particular society. Being perceived as a vital part of Nepalese culture, they often go unquestioned within Nepali society, despite their brutal and degrading character and the grave suffering they cause.17https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

Violence resulting from kuriti is one of the major social problems of Nepal. The victims are mainly members of marginalized groups, such as women, children, ‘untouchables’ (according to the “caste” system) and other economically deprived members of society.

The Nepalese Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has identified fifty-seven kuriti in Nepal. These include the persecution of individuals accused of practicing witchcraft (Boksi Pratha), child marriage, forcing women to stay in a tiny hut far from their own house during the time of their menstruation (Chhaupadi Pratha) and the offering of a girl child to a Hindu temple (Deuki Pratha).

Nepal has ratified a number of treaties relevant to its obligations to prevent and punish acts of kuriti. Nepal has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

There is also domestic legislation in place that purports to end certain forms of harmful traditional practices. This includes the Witchcraft Allegation (Offense and Punishment) Act 2016, Article 168 of the Penal Code, the law against dowry in the Social Practices (Reform) Act, 1976 and the law against child marriage in the National Code, Chapter on Marriage.18https://redcross.eu/uploads/files/Positions/Humanitarian%20aid/SGBV%20in%20disasters/Gender%20SGBV% 20Report_%20Nepal%20HR.pdf In August 2018, a law criminalizing chaupadi was passed by the Nepali parliament.19https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/06/in-nepal-tradition-is-killing-women-chhaupadi-womens-rights-menstruation/ However, effective implementation remains a challenge.20Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Nepal, 14 November 2018, UN doc no. CEDAW/C/NPL/CO/6

In Nepal, attitudes and beliefs about menstruation place severe restrictions on women and girls, as menstrual blood is seen as a source of pollution. Deeply rooted in culture and religion, these restrictions stem from a desire to avoid ‘impurity’ that originates from the Hindu religion. Of the different forms of menstrual restrictions in Nepal, chhaupadi is the most extreme form. Chhaupadi is a form of menstrual exile where women and girls sleep in small huts (chhaugoth) or animal sheds during menstruation and  immediately after childbirth.

SOCH Nepal estimates that at least 1,860 people are affected by kuriti in Nepal annually. In 2019 alone, SOCH Nepal recorded: 603 cases of girls forced into child marriage, 459 cases of untouchability, 125 cases of chaupadi (isolating menstruating women and girls), at least 3 cases of deuki (offering girls to deities to fulfil religious obligations), and at least 12 cases of torture of women in the name of witch-hunting. The gravest kuriti in Nepali society is ‘human sacrifice’. In 2019, 1 ‘virgin girl’ was set for sacrifice, fortunately police could rescue her just some hours before she was set to be sacrificed.21https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf

Women’s rights

Under Article 38(3) of the Constitution:

“There shall not be any physical, mental, sexual or psychological or any other kind of violence against women, or any kind of oppression based on religious, social and cultural tradition, and other practices. Such an act shall be punishable by law and the victim shall have the right to be compensation as provided for in law.”

The same article enshrines each woman’s right to reproductive health. Following Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN, the government is the government began consultations to update the criminal code to better safeguard the recognized right to abortion.22https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/08/nepal-dispatches-government-of-nepal-moves-to-decriminalize-abortion-in-response-to-rights-campaign/

The Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act 201823https://lawcommission.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/The-Right-to-Safe-Motherhood-and-Reproductive-Health-Act-2075-2018.pdf permits women to seek abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks of gestation, and up to 28 weeks in cases of rape or incest. Abortion is also legal up to 28 weeks of the pregnancy if a licensed medical practitioner identifies a risk to the woman’s mental or physical health or if the fetus is “likely to become non-viable.”

However, both the Citizenship Act 200624https://jp.nepalembassy.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/citizenship_act_eng.pdf and the Constitution contain provisions that discriminate against women with regard to nationality and the ability to transmit citizenship through marriage and to their children. In September 2020, three UN Special Rapporteurs wrote to the Nepali State to express their concerns regarding specific amendments to the Citizenship Act under discussion.25https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25552

LGBTI+ rights

In August 2018, Nepal introduced a new Civil Code. Based on a ruling of the Supreme Court in 2007, there was widespread expectation from LGBTI+ communities that same-sex marriage would be legalized. However, Section 3-1-67, which addresses the topic of marriage, only recognizes heterosexual marriage.26http://www.moljpa.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Civil-code.pdf

In 2015, Nepal became one of the world’s few countries to recognize a “third gender” in citizenship documents, thereby establishing self-determination as the sole criterion to identify one’s gender.27aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/nepal-third-gender-201431181229222617.html

The politics of the cow

Although Nepal was pronounced a secular state in 2007 and ceased to be the “only Hindu nation in the world”, Hinduism still influences many aspects of Nepalese culture.

The killing of cows is banned throughout Nepal for all people, regardless of their beliefs (Article 289 of the Criminal Code). Those caught killing cows can be punished with a three-year prison sentence. Police reportedly arrested 39 Muslim, Dalit, and indigenous persons for cow slaughter in nine separate incidents over the course of 2021. In addition, the Society for Humanism Nepal (SOCH Nepal) reported three additional incidents in which 17 individuals were arrested as of October.28https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of the press, opinion, and expression are guaranteed and direct censorship is unlawful. However, freedom of expression is often stifled in practice, particularly when the government faces criticism.29https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/south-asia/nepal/report-nepal/; https://ifex.org/nepal-freedom-forum-welcomes-court-decision-acquitting-comedian-pranesh-gautam/; https://ifex.org/nepal-home-ministrys-statements-breach-citizens-right-to-free-expression-peaceful-protest/; https://ifex.org/freedom-forum-expresses-concern-over-the-grilling-of-journalists-by-the-supreme-court-over-a-news-report/ ; https://ifex.org/nepali-singer-pulls-anti-corruption-song-after-receiving-threats/

In March 2022, Reporters Without Borders condemned a new decree that, on the pretext of “regulating” online videos, has the effect of preventing media outlets, journalists and ordinary citizens from posting video news reports on the Internet.30 https://rsf.org/en/nepali-government-wants-censor-online-videos; https://ifex.org/amendment-of-the-national-broadcasting-regulation-could-curtail-free-speech-in-nepal/

Media freedom

While media freedom is guaranteed in theory, in practice freedom of the press has not been consistently protected. Indeed, a series of provisions in the Penal Code adopted in August 2018 hinders investigative journalism and limits criticism of public figures.31https://rsf.org/en/country/nepal

According to Reporters’ Without Borders Press Freedom Index,32https://rsf.org/en/country/nepal

“The activities of security forces and of some rebel groups are especially sensitive. Lacking adequate security training, many journalists abstain from covering these issues. Protection mechanisms do exist, upheld notably by Press Council Nepal and the National Human Rights Commission. However, they are not quite capable of offering urgent solutions for reporters in danger. Cases of surveillance, threats and intimidation are legion, hence pushing many journalists into self-censorship. Pressures of a more insidious kind may also persuade some reporters to avoid sensitive issues, for fear of being discredited.”

In June 2022, IPI reported that there had been at least seven incidents of attacks or harassment of journalists by public officials in the previous month.33https://ifex.org/nepal-two-journalists-detained-five-others-threatened-and-attacked/

‘Hurting religious sentiments’ law

In 2017, Nepal introduced new laws that not only criminalize ‘blasphemy’, but could render any public expression of belief an offense due to the overbroad nature of the formulation of the laws. According to Nepal’s Penal Code, a person convicted of ‘hurting religious sentiments’ could face up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to US$170. The provision reads:

156: Prohibition of outraging religious feelings
(1) No person shall outrage the religious feelings of any caste, race, community, or class by words, either spoken or written, by visible representation or signs or otherwise.
(2) A person who commits, or causes to be committed, the offense referred to in sub-section (1) shall be liable to a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years and a fine not exceeding 20,000 rupees.

In addition, the broad wording of Article 158, which prohibits proselytizing, could lead to the conflation of proselytizing with ‘blasphemy’ and “hurting religious sentiments”, as changing one’s religion or questioning religious tenets may be perceived as an insult to another’s religion. Of particular concern in this regard is clause 2, which reads:

“(2) No person shall do any act or conduct that undermines the religion, opinion, or faith of any caste, race, or community or convert anyone into another religion, whether by inducement or not, in a manner to so undermine or propagate such religion or opinion with the intention of making such conversion.”

Those who commit offenses under this clause could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (approx. US$430). A foreign national who commits such an offence faces deportation.

A study conducted by the United States’ Commission on International Religious Freedom,34https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Blasphemy%20Enforcement%20Report%20_final_0.pdf documented two cases of the application of blasphemy laws in the country between 2014-2018.

In March 2020, Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya was reportedly first arrested in Pokhara on 23 March 2020 and charged with spreading misinformation about COVID-19 for stating that “those who follow Christ would not become infected”. He was fined for these statements but remained in jail. According to IIRF (a Christian institute), his phone was searched without his consent during his arrest. The police found information and photographic evidence of him traveling around the country and distributing Christian material. He was subsequently charged multiple times with proselytizing and outraging religious feelings. On 19 April 2020, bail for his release was set at 500,000 rupees ($4,300). However, he was not released and was transferred 400 miles away to face more charges of religious conversion. On 30 June 2020, Acharya was released on a 300,000 rupees bail ($2,600).35https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/

Freedom of assembly

Although the Constitution enshrines freedom of assembly, “security forces have been known to violently disperse protests and demonstrations, particularly in the south, where a large Madhesi population and related secessionist movement exist,” according to Freedom House.36https://freedomhouse.org/country/nepal/freedom-world/2022

In 2018, the government issued a ban against protests and demonstrations in various public places in Kathmandu, but it was stayed by the Supreme Court.37thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/sc-continues-stay-order-against-protest-ban/

In April 2018, the Maitinghar Mandala, one the most common venues for protests and demonstration, was declared a “no protest zone” and the government allocated seven open spaces in Kathmandu for public protests, in apparent violation of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.38nepalireporter.com/protest-ban-on-maitighar-mandala-to-be-strictly-implemented-from-july-15/#.W6Dk3pNKg0o

References

References
1 https://mofa.gov.np/about-nepal/nepal-profile/
2 https://censusnepal.cbs.gov.np/Home/Details?tpid=5&dcid=57d4bc52-50ca-4acb-b7fc-20c8923831e5&tfsid=1
3 https://www.mohp.gov.np/downloads/Constitution%20of%20Nepal%202072_full_english.pdf
4, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, 21 https://humanists.international/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SOCH-Nepal-UPR-Submission-on-Kuriti.docx.pdf
5, 8, 10, 28 https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/
6, 26 http://www.moljpa.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Civil-code.pdf
7 http://www.moljpa.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Penal-Code-English-Revised-1.pdf
9, 12 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/nepal
14 https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/01/nepal-ensure-justice-caste-based-killings; https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1065102
18 https://redcross.eu/uploads/files/Positions/Humanitarian%20aid/SGBV%20in%20disasters/Gender%20SGBV% 20Report_%20Nepal%20HR.pdf
19 https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/06/in-nepal-tradition-is-killing-women-chhaupadi-womens-rights-menstruation/
20 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Nepal, 14 November 2018, UN doc no. CEDAW/C/NPL/CO/6
22 https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/08/nepal-dispatches-government-of-nepal-moves-to-decriminalize-abortion-in-response-to-rights-campaign/
23 https://lawcommission.gov.np/en/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/The-Right-to-Safe-Motherhood-and-Reproductive-Health-Act-2075-2018.pdf
24 https://jp.nepalembassy.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/citizenship_act_eng.pdf
25 https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25552
27 aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/nepal-third-gender-201431181229222617.html
29 https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/south-asia/nepal/report-nepal/; https://ifex.org/nepal-freedom-forum-welcomes-court-decision-acquitting-comedian-pranesh-gautam/; https://ifex.org/nepal-home-ministrys-statements-breach-citizens-right-to-free-expression-peaceful-protest/; https://ifex.org/freedom-forum-expresses-concern-over-the-grilling-of-journalists-by-the-supreme-court-over-a-news-report/ ; https://ifex.org/nepali-singer-pulls-anti-corruption-song-after-receiving-threats/
30 https://rsf.org/en/nepali-government-wants-censor-online-videos; https://ifex.org/amendment-of-the-national-broadcasting-regulation-could-curtail-free-speech-in-nepal/
31, 32 https://rsf.org/en/country/nepal
33 https://ifex.org/nepal-two-journalists-detained-five-others-threatened-and-attacked/
34 https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Blasphemy%20Enforcement%20Report%20_final_0.pdf
35 https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nepal/
36 https://freedomhouse.org/country/nepal/freedom-world/2022
37 thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/sc-continues-stay-order-against-protest-ban/
38 nepalireporter.com/protest-ban-on-maitighar-mandala-to-be-strictly-implemented-from-july-15/#.W6Dk3pNKg0o

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