28 Aug - 3 Sep 2015 #773

Behind closed doors

Only 20 per cent of rape involving family members get reported
Namrata Sharma And Aruna Uprety

BIKRAM RAI

When a 15-year-old girl from Makwanpur confided to her mother recently that her father had been sexually abusing her she was told to stay quiet. Citing possible community backlash and the fear of social stigma, the mother asked her daughter not to report the crime. The teenager was unconvinced and with help from women’s rights activists filed a complaint against her father who is now serving time in prison for incest.

In another case in the same district a student was raped by her teacher after inviting her home on the pretext of providing extra classes. It took the student several months of abuse to open up about the incident to a friend who immediately contacted the victim’s aunt. Together, the three lodged a police complaint against the teacher. The student admitted that it was fear of bringing shame to her family that she hadn’t spoken out sooner.

Although a majority of rape cases involve family members and close relatives, a report published by Anbesi last year showed that only 4 per cent of such cases are reported to the police. And even if they are, there is pressure from the community to settle the matter secretly in case of incest, or in many cases to get the victim to marry the rapist

“It is difficult for children to speak out against perpetrators when they are people known or related to them,” says Bishnu Ojha of Nari Sip Srijana Kendra in Hetauda which works with rape victims. Ojha frequently receives complaints from young girls who have been sexually assaulted by relatives and family members. “In such circumstances victims are also unsure about who to trust and where to seek help,” he explains.

Family honour, lack of access to legal aid, and fear over being social outcasts seem to be the major deterrants for victims to report rape crimes. Even when victims muster the courage to speak out, they are vilified and shunned by neighbours for bringing shame to the community.

Rather than questioning the perpetrator’s character, it is the victim’s behaviour that is put under the spotlight. Many families also prefer to settle matter out of court in order to avoid public scrutiny of the case. In such circumstances it is the community members, village councils which hand out judgements, and those are usually in favour of perpetrators who tend to be powerful local men.

In Rautahat a gang rape victim was asked to leave the village while her perpetrators escaped scot free after paying the family Rs 25,000 compensation. A 60-year-old man from Kohalpur charged with raping a seven-year-old is still roaming freely because he enjoys political protection. Meanwhile the child faces constant taunts from neighbours.

“They try to make it seem like she is the one to blame,” the child’s aunt told us during a recent visit. The result is that the girls and young women often suffer emotion scars and mental trauma.

A 14-year-old girl from Hetauda was raped by a soldier who claimed the relationship was consensual. The girl’s family charged the man with having sex with a minor, and he is now in police custody. Even though such cases of justice being served because of pressure from legal rights groups are few and far between, there is now pressure from the soldier’s family to have him released if he agrees to marry the girl, who is pregnant.

The argument is that the girl will be stigmatised for life as an unmarried mother if she has the child. The reasoning of one neighbour illustrates the mindset in society: “He is a man, he will be fine even after getting released. Who will marry her and take care of the baby?”


What the law says

In Nepal, sexual relationship with kin is a crime whether the relationship is between two consenting adults or forced. Although not uncommon, most incest cases do not come out in the open.

“Cases of incest generally involve power relations, meaning an elder member of the family abusing or molesting a younger one,” says advocate Sapana Pradhan Malla. “Family prestige then is more important than dignity of the victim.”

Article 15 of Nepal’s Muluki Ain says that sexual relationships between family members within seven generations is a crime punishable by law. Ethnic groups where marriage between cousins is allowed are, however, exempt. Both men and women are liable for punishment in case of a consensual relationship while if it is forced, the perpetrator can be punished for both rape and incest.

“There is no distinction between consensual and non-consensual incest in our law. While incest-rape is and should be treated as a crime, the law for consenting individuals who may be distant relatives is unequal,” says Malla. A husband is allowed to marry his wife’s sister without it being incest, but a wife marrying her deceased husband’s brother is treated as incest.

“Most cases coming out today are of rape by a relative,” says Malla. Many cases involve girls being molested by their father, grandfather and uncles, and mothers often scold daughters if they accuse the father of molesting her. Sometimes the daughter is sent away to a maternal uncle’s house while the mother tries to reconcile with her husband.

Apart from punishing the perpetrators, Malla says the law doesn’t require any rehabilitation or psycho-social counselling for the victims.

Sahina Shrestha 

Read Also

Keeping it in the family, Anjana Rajbhandary

18 year imprisonment for raping daughter

A letter to little Pooja

This is not how your story should end, Anjana Rajbhandary

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