1991 US Department of State Annual Human Rights Report on Nepal

Page 1526 


Nepal is a constitutional monarchy which began to function as a 
parliamentary democracy following national elections held on 
May 12. The King retains important residual powers under the 
new Constitution but disassociated himself from the exercise of 
power in 1991. The Parliament consists of the House of 
Representatives (lower house) and the National Council (upper 
house). From 1960, when an elected party-based government was 
dismissed, until 1990, Nepal was an absolute monarchy and 
political parties were banned. The success of the Movement to 
Restore Democracy (MRD) in April 1990 initiated Nepal's 
transition to democracy. Responding to popular pressure, the 
King dismissed the partyless "Panchayat" government and invited 
the formation of an interim government made up of Nepali 
Congress and Communist party leaders. This government presided 
over the promulgation of a new Constitution and Nepal's first 
multiparty elections since 1959. International observers 
described these elections, in which all citizens over 18 were 
allowed to vote, as "generally conducted in a manner fair, 
free, and open enabling the full expression of the will of the 
people." The Nepali Congress Party won a majority in the House 
of Representatives with 110 of 205 seats, while the Communist 
parties, receiving almost the same total popular vote as the 
Congress Party, won a combined total of 82 seats. The parties 
led by former leaders of the discredited Panchayat system were 
routed, winning only four seats and joining a group of regional 
and special interest parties having only token representation 
in the Parliament. The Nepali Congress Party Government headed 
by Prime Minister G. P. Koirala is now in the first year of a 
5-year term. 

Internal security is maintained by the Nepal police, under the 
Home Minister, and, as necessary, by the Royal Nepal Army, of 
which the King is Commander in Chief. During the elections the 
army provided major logistical and security support, which by 
all accounts helped both to minimize election violence and to 
guarantee an orderly electoral process. Because communication 
links in Nepal are limited, local officials have a great deal 
of autonomy and exercise wide discretion in handling law and 
order. There were sporadic incidents in which police used 
excessive lethal force, and police mistreatment of criminal 
suspects continued. 

Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, with per capita 
gross national product estimated at $160. Over 90 percent of 
its 19 million people are engaged in subsistence agriculture. 
Economic development varies widely: the Kathmandu Valley and 
the Terai (the lowland area adjacent to India) are developing 
more rapidly, but population pressures, physical isolation, and 
environmental degradation in the hills between the Terai in the 
south and the Himalaya mountain range in the north keep the 
hills the poorest region of the country. 

As witnessed by the carrying out of free elections in May, 
Nepal today is a far more open society than it was before the 
political transformation began in 1990. The new Government has 
also made measurable progress in its top priority of restoring 
law and order, which had deteriorated during the previous 
year. Prime Minister Koirala also stressed that the protection 
of human rights is a central tenet of his Government. The 1990 
Constitution guarantees a broad range of fundamental human 
rights, and during the summer Parliament passed a number of 
bills to bring the law into conformity with the Constitution. 
The principal human rights problem in 1991 concerned the abuse 
of police powers. Police fired into crowds on several 



occasions and police beatings of prisoners continued to occur, 
particularly in more remote areas, both as punishment and to 
extract confessions. In addition, broad powers of detention, 
which authorities still enjoy under the Public Security Act, 
were used widely during the 55-day protest by the Nepal Civil 
Servants' Association (NCSO) and remain an important problem. 
Freedom of religion, although permitted in practice, is still 
not enshrined in law. Trafficking in women remains a 
significant social problem. 


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
Freedom from: 

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 

Following the civil strife of February-April 1990 in which 
dozens of persons were killed, the incidence of political and 
extrajudicial killing dropped sharply. Nevertheless, during 
the period leading up to the May 12 elections there were 
several hundred incidents of campaign violence in which 
injuries or fatalities occurred. Most incidents resulted from 
interparty conflict, several escalating to the point where 
police fired on crowds. After violence dwindled to almost 
nothing on election day, two deaths were attributed to 
interparty conflict in the months following the election, and 
political tensions have continued to erupt into violence from 
time to time. Police fired on crowds in Argakhanchi on July 6 
and in Khotang on July 31, resulting in one death and several 
injuries on each occasion. The first case was apparently 
touched off by an argument over regulations on the consumption 
of alcohol; the second case came when an organized 
demonstration in support of the NCSO protest became unruly and 
abusive. In both instances the Home Minister supported the 
police justification of its behavior but then provided 
compensation to the victims' families. Both incidents involved 
supporters of competing political parties. An investigation 
team comprised of three members of Parliament, from both the 
Nepali Congress and Communist parties, concluded that in 
Khotang a genuine provocation was met by excessive force. 
There are conflicting views on the Argakhanchi incident. No 
disciplinary action has been taken against the police in either 
instance, and a Home Ministry inquiry, while not technically 
closed, had produced no results by year's end. 

b. Disappearance 

There were no new reports of disappearances. Soon after coming 
to power, the interim government formed a five-person 
commission to investigate the whereabouts of those missing or 
dead since December i960. The commission presented its report 
to the Parliament in August; however, it has not been 
published, and few details of its conclusions are available. 
According to press reports, the commission found that a few of 
the rfiore than 30 missing people had been found in police 
custody and released. The commission's report was apparently 
inconclusive, however, regarding most of the cases under 
consideration. No further investigation is anticipated. 

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
Treatment or Punishment 

Allegations of torture dropped markedly after the fall of the 
Panchayat government. In April the Government acceded to the 



Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or 
Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Nepal's Constitution now 
provides for compensation to those subjected to physical or 
mental torture. 

Police beating is still reported to be a routine means of 
extracting confessions from common criminals, particularly in 
rural areas. In addition, there were several reports of police 
beating Tibetan refugees transiting Nepal en route to India and 
taking their possessions. These incidents have occurred, in 
areas where oversight by senior government officials is thin. 
However, the Government has rarely conducted investigations 
into allegations of police brutality or acknowledged public 
concern about its prevalence. 

During the civil servants' protest, human rights groups 
reported that detainees were held under very crowded conditions 
with minimal ventilation, and that some were denied medical 
attention. Three classes of prison facilities exist in Nepal. 
Class "C" cells — which generally hold common criminals, 
suspected terrorists, and low-level political workers — are the 
worst. They often have dirt floors, sparse or no furnishings, 
and poorer food than in class "B" or "A" cells. The use of 
handcuffs and fetters is sometimes reported. 

Prisoners in the class "C" cells reportedly suffer the most 
abuse, such as beatings and being forced to kneel for long 
periods. Conditions in "B" and "A" cells are markedly better, 
with the latter reserved for "prominent" persons. Women are 
incarcerated separately from men, in equally poor conditions. 
In September the Government announced that jail administration 
and management would be shifted from the police to the Home 
Ministry, a move that some observers thought would improve 
prison conditions and respect for prisoners' rights. 

Reflecting the low level of general medical facilities in this 
impoverished country, facilities for care and treatment of the 
mentally ill are inadequate. Such persons are often placed in 
jails under conditions that are degrading and sometimes inhuman 
by international standards. 

The three-person Mallick Commission appointed by the interim 
government to investigate the loss of life and property during 
the MRD agitation period and to look into charges of torture 
and other mistreatment completed its report on December 31, 
1990, and submitted it to the Attorney General. The report, 
which has not been published, recommended legal action against 
individual civil and police officials responsible for deaths 
and injuries during the MRD agitation in the spring of 1990. 
In February the Government seized the passports of many 
high-ranking officials likely to be indicted by the report to 
prevent them from leaving the country. The Supreme Court later 
declared this action unconstitutional. The Attorney General 
later determined that the Mallick Report supplies neither firm 
evidence nor a legal basis for prosecution. 

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 

During the NCSO protests in July and August, the Government 
frequently resorted to arbitrary detention and arrest under the 
Public Offenses and Penalties Act in an effort to intimidate 
and demoralize the protesters. Credible sources reported 
upward of 500 arrests under the Act during this period, with 
many of those detained spending the full 25 days of police 
investigation in preventive detention. At the end of the 25 



days, most were released on bail, a few were held and charged, 
and some of the leaders were released and then quickly 
rearrested. Virtually all detainees were released within days 
of the NCSO protest's termination on August 24. 

The law which had been used most often to detain and arrest 
persons during the^MRD agitation was the Public Security Act. 
This Act was amended in April but was not repealed. Under the 
Act as amended, the Home Ministry may prohibit a person from 
leaving the Kingdom or, upon presentation of a notice stating 
that he is being detained, a person may be held for up to 6 
months. This initial period may be extended once by the court 
for an additional 6 months before charges must be filed. A 
written detention order with "grounds and reason" must be 
presented at the time of detention, and the district court must 
be notified within 24 hours. The listed grounds for detention 
are open to broad interpretation. A person may be detained if 
it is suspected that his actions might affect the security of 
Nepal; order and tranquility inside Nepal; amicable relations 
between Nepal and other friendly states; or amicable relations 
among people of different classes or religions within Nepal. 
Persons detained under the Act are not brought to trial. This 
law was not invoked in 1991. 

Other existing laws may be used as the basis for arrest and 
detention. Persons detained for the expression of views 
critical of, or different from, those of the Government may be 
charged under the Treason Act; the National Security Act also 
allows preventive detention in an emergency. 

Under current law, persons are permitted access to a lawyer of 
their choosing only after they are no longer technically in 
police custody, which can be up to 25 days in criminal cases. 
Those detained under the Public Security Act are to be 
presented with documentation stating they are being held under 
the Act when they are imprisoned. For common crimes, the law 
provides that a suspect must be brought before a court within 
24 hours and must be informed of the general grounds for the 
arrest or be released. A 7-day extension may be granted for 
the completion of the police investigation. The law generally 
provides a person in detention with the right to a judicial 
determination of the legality of the detention, but instances 
of abuse reportedly occur. There is a functioning system of 
bail, but bail levels were substantially increased in 1987, 
making bail too expensive for most impoverished Nepalese. 
Judges often do not set bail, and many accused persons are held 
throughout their trial period. 

Exile is prohibited by the Constitution and is not practiced. 

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial 

Nepalese law provides for the right to a public trial except in 
some security and customs cases. The Constitution provides for 
the right to counsel, protection from double jeopardy, and 
protection from retroactive application of the law. There were 
no reported instances of abuse in this area under either the 
interim government or the newly elected Government. The 
judiciary is legally independent. Although in the past the 
judicial system had always been weak and subject to political 
influence, efforts are being made by the new Government to 
strengthen it. The right of constitutional review was 
introduced in the 1990 Constitution. Also, the Constitution 
allows the Supreme Court to initiate contempt proceedings and 
to impose punishment for contempt of the Supreme Court or 



subordinate courts. All lower court decisions, including 
accjuittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the 
court of last appeal, but the King may grant pardons and may 
suspend, commute, or remit any sentence by any court. 

Nepal's judicial system consists of three layers: the Supreme 
Court, appellate courts, and district courts. The judges of 
all three layers are appointed by the King upon the 
recommendation of the Judicial Council, a constitutional body 
chaired by the Chief Justice, which makes recommendations and 
gives advice on matters of appointment, transfer, disciplinary 
action against judges, and other matters relating to judicial 
administration. In 1990 the judicial system virtually ceased 
to function as a result of the political upheaval, causing an 
enormous case backlog; by the end of 1991, over 2,000 cases 
were still pending review by the Supreme Court. 

Military and civilian courts are separate. Military courts 
generally deal only with military personnel who are immune from 
prosecution in civilian courts. Pending review of the law to 
bring it into conformity with the Constitution, civilians may 
also be tried in military courts for crimes involving the 
military. In the past, cases of terrorism or treason were 
often dealt with under the Treason Act in closed trials held 
before specially constituted tribunals. No such cases were 
tried in 1991, but the Treason Act remains in effect. 

Fifteen persons who had been convicted by the Supreme Court in 
connection with bomb explosions in 1985 received royal pardons 
on June 23. Of the 15, 4 were facing death sentences and 4 
faced life imprisonment. Although some groups continued to 
claim there were political prisoners being held on false 
charges of murder and banditry, there was no confirmation of 
this claim. 

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The new Government generally has respected the privacy of the 
home and family, principles bolstered by Nepalese law and 
tradition. Search warrants are required before search and 
seizure, except in cases involving suspected security or 
narcotics violations. The Police Act of 1955 empowers the 
police to issue warrants for search and seizure in criminal 
cases upon receipt of information about criminal activities. 
The Chief District Officer (CDO) in misdemeanor cases and court 
judges in felony cases must approve warrants within 24 hours 
after they are issued. An amendment to the Police Act was 
passed and, although its provisions have not been published, 
they reportedly retain the warrant requirements. 

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 

a. Freedom of Speech and Press 

The Constitution specifies that all citizens shall have freedom 
of thought and expression; it also guarantees that no news 
item, article, or any other reading material shall be 
censored. These rights are circumscribed, however, as the 
Constitution permits restriction of speech or press in four 
instances: if they undermine the sovereignty and integrity of 
the Kingdom of Nepal; if they disturb the harmonious relations 
subsisting among people of different castes or communities; if 
they represent sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or 



instigation to commit crime; or if they are against decent 
public behavior or morality. 

The sole radio and television stations in Nepal are government 
owned and controlled. While programming reflected a much 
broader range of interests and political viewpoints than it had 
before the democracy movement, it still followed closely the 
views of the Government . 

In May a new Press and Publication Act was enacted. It 
provides for the licensing of publications and the granting of 
credentials to journalists. It includes penalties for 
violating these requirements. In addition, it prohibits 
publication of materials that foment hatred, disrespect, 
contempt, or malice, toward the King or the royal family or 
undermine the dignity of the King; undermine the integrity and 
sovereignty of the Kingdom of Nepal; undermine the security, 
peace, and order of the Kingdom of Nepal; create animosity and 
spread communal ill-feelings among people belonging to 
different castes and communities, religions, classes, regions, 
and sects; or adversely affect the good conduct, morality, and 
social decorum of the public. A similar list regulates the 
basis of banning the importation of foreign publications. 

Notwithstanding the law, a large number of Nepal's more than 
400 publications (some political party mouthpieces, some 
independent, and many small family operations with circulation 
limited to a few hundred copies) remained vigorous and candid 
in their criticism of the Government. A few have published 
direct attacks on the monarchy, without being prosecuted or 
closed down. The two Nepalese dailies with the largest 
circulations are government organs. Their coverage broadened 
over the past year to reflect a wider range of viewpoints. 
While their editors may publish critical views and alternate 
policies, editorial views still tend to reflect government 
policy. During the interim government this was entirely a 
function of self-censorship, and under the elected Government 
there has also been occasional direction from the Ministry of 
Communication. While the Government can exert pressure on the 
independent print media through its control of the price of 
newsprint and through the high proportion of advertising it 
purchases, there was no evidence that such pressure was applied 
in 1991. 

During the year there were no reported abridgments of freedom 
of speech, and there were no reported restrictions on academic 

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 

Under the Constitution freedom of assembly is guaranteed. 
However, a caveat allows restrictions on such vague grounds as 
undermining the "sovereignty and integrity" of Nepal or 
disturbing "law and order." 

During the NCSO protests some of the activists were arrested 
while demonstrating peacefully, while in other cases the 
demonstrations degenerated into public disturbances before any 
arrests took place. There were no other reports of arrest or 
detention for exercising the freedoms of assembly or 



c. Freedom of Religion 

The majority of Nepalese are Hindus, and Nepal is officially 
described as a Hindu Kingdom. There is a large minority of 
Buddhists, a smaller number of Muslims, and a small but growing 
number of Christians. Non-Hindus are allowed to practice their 
religion and to maintain places of worship. Many foreign 
Christian clergymen reside and work in Nepal in various 
fields. Religious education is offered by non-Hindus, 
including Muslims and Christians. Religious publications are 
imported mainly from India and widely circulated. 

The new Constitution, unlike the previous one, provides that 
"every religious demonimation shall have the right to maintain 
its independent existence," but proselytizing remains 
prohibited. In addition, the current legal code now provides a 
maximum penalty of 1 year in prison for any Hindu who converts 
to another religion and 3 to 6 years for any person who seeks 
to proselytize a Hindu. The State views the conversion of 
Hindus as a more serious crime than the conversion of 
non-Hindus because conversion from Hinduism is regarded as 
undermining the religious and ideological underpinnings of the 
State. There is no penalty if a non-Hindu converts. 

In the past, Nepalese authorities, particularly in conservative 
rural areas, have taken the prohibition on conversion very 
seriously. The newly elected Government has continued the more 
tolerant policy of the interim government that took power in 
1990, and Christians and other non-Hindu groups have freely 
engaged in a wide variety of religious activities. Christmas 
and Id-ul Fitr have been made legal holidays for Christians and 
Muslims, respectively, and religious groups may establish their 
own organizations and acquire their own places of worship. 
Over a dozen cases of "attempting to proselytize" have been 
thrown out of court; there have been no reports of prosecution 
for religious reasons since April 1990. 

Concern remains that continuing the prohibition against 
religious conversion in the new Constitution raises the 
possibility that it may be used against people solely for the 
expression of their religious beliefs. For this reason, 
various non-Hindu groups continue to urge amendment of this 
provision of the Constitution. 

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation 

Citizens of Nepal may generally move freely and reside where 
they wish, a right guaranteed in the Constitution. Foreigners 
(including Tibetans resident in Nepal) and journalists are 
restricted from traveling to some areas on the Chinese border; 
this restriction was lifted in October for licensed trekking 
groups escorted by a police liaison officer. Nepalese abroad 
are free to return home. Although it is not explicitly 
prohibited by the Constitution, there are no known cases of 
revocation of citizenship for political reasons. Travel 
outside of Nepal is generally not restricted for Nepalese 
citizens. Tibetans resident in Nepal may only travel to India, 
although exceptions are routinely granted for business travel 
to other countries. 

Nepal has no stated refugee policy and is not a party to the 
1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United 
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has maintained 
an office in Kathmandu since 1989. The Government is aiding 



UNHCR's efforts by facilitating its access to the asylum 
seekers from both China and Bhutan. In the past, Nepal has 
accepted and assimilated approximately 14,000 Tibetan 
refugees. Border restrictions, tightened in 1986 by a joint 
Nepalese/Chinese agreement, are observed haphazardly on the 
Nepal side of the border. Tibetan refugees transiting through 
Nepal to India are usually permitted passage, although there 
are frequent reports of police demanding payments from, and 
occasionally administering beatings to, these refugees. 
Credible reports continue to be heard of some Tibetan refugees 
being turned back by Nepalese authorities near the Nepal-China 
border. One estimate suggested that about quarter of the total 
who attempted to flee through Nepal were turned back; the same 
source claimed that this was a 50 percent improvement over 1990, 

There was a large increase in the number of Nepalese-ethnic 
Bhutanese fleeing into Nepal reportedly after suffering abuses 
or being expelled from Bhutan. Those refugees with family ties 
in Nepal returned to their native villages. Nearly 10,000 
others arrived in camps in southeastern Nepal where they faced 
unhealthful conditions of poor sanitation and nutrition. Their 
presence there is tolerated by the Government, although it can 
offer them little except a place to stay. The UNHCR monitors 
the condition of these refugees and provides assistance for 
their basic needs. 

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens 
to Change Their Government 

Under the Constitution promulgated in 1990, Nepal is a 
constitutional monarchy with sovereignty vested in the people. 
The people, through their elected representatives, have the 
right to amend the Constitution to change all but the most 
basic aspects of the body politic — sovereignty vested in the 
people, the multiparty system, fundamental rights, and the 
constitutional monarchy. 

Parliamentary elections are to be held every 5 years based on 
universal adult suffrage (for citizens over the age of 18) and 
the secret ballot. On May 12, the people exercised their 
franchise for the first time in 32 years in a general election 
that domestic and over 60 international observers described as 
basically free and fair. The Nepali Congress Party won 110 out 
of 205 seats in the House of Representatives and was able to 
form the Government without need for a coalition. The King 
appointed G.P. Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress Party in 
the Parliament, as Prime Minister. The next parliamentary 
elections are scheduled to be held in 1996. 

The King continues to exercise certain executive powers "with 
the advice and consent of the Council of Ministers." These 
powers include exclusive power in enacting, amending, and 
repealing laws relating to succession to the throne. The 
King's income and property are tax exempt and inviolable. No 
question may be raised in any court about any act performed by 
the King. The new Constitution also permits the King to 
exercise emergency powers in the event of war, external 
aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic depression. The 
emergency powers allow him to suspend the freedoms of 
expression and assembly, freedoms from censorship and 
preventive detention, and other basic freedoms without judicial 
review. The rights to form associations and of habeas corpus 
may not be suspended. A state of emergency may be maintained 
for up to 3 months without legislative approval, and up to 6 



months, renewable only once for an additional 6 months, if 
legislative approval is granted. 

The new Constitution bars the registration and participation in 
elections of any political party that is based on caste or 
community or that does not operate openly and democratically. 

There are no specific laws that restrict women or minorities 
from participating in the Government or political parties, but 
lingering conservative traditions limit the influence of both 
women and some castes and tribes in the political process. The 
Constitution requires that at least 5 percent of the candidates 
for the House of Representatives from each registered political 
party be women. 

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 

Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
of Human Rights 

Nepal has over a dozen nongovernmental human rights 
organizations. The major organizations are the Forum for the 
Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR) and the Human Rights 
Organization of Nepal (HURON), although the activities of the 
latter dropped off considerably following the success of the 
prodemocracy movement. Both are considered to be relatively 
unbiased in their reporting despite the fact that FOPHUR is 
associated informally with the left-leaning parties and HURON 
with the Nepali Congress Party. In addition, the Institute for 
Human Rights, Environment, and Development (INHURED) was active 
and organized an international conference on human rights, 
law-making, and transition to democracy in Kathmandu in July. 
The Nepal Law Society also monitors human rights issues. Both 
government-appointed commissions and nongovernmental human 
rights groups report that police authorities are not 
cooperative with their efforts to gather information. 

The interim government welcomed international observers from 22 
countries at the time of the May general elections. During the 
civil servants' protest. Amnesty International published a 
report criticizing the Government for detaining trade 
unionists; the Government has not commented on this report 

The interim government affirmed its commitment to human rights 
by acceding to the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights; the Optional Protocol to that Covenant; the 
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or 
Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the International Convention 
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the 
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and 
the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Following the May 
12 election, the newly elected Prime Minister reaffirmed 
international respect for human rights as a cornerstone of 
Nepal's foreign policy. 

In September the Government established an Abuse of Authority 
Investigation Commission under legislation passed by the 
Parliament as required by the Constitution. This organ will be 
used primarily to investigate corruption in government, but any 
citizen may bring a complaint to it, including allegations of 
human rights abuses. 



Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
Language, or Social Status 

The Constitution specifies the right to equality whereby the 
State shall not discriminate against citizens on grounds of 
religion, race, sex, caste, or ideology. However, Nepal is 
still largely a traditional society and remains wedded to the 
caste system. Discrimination on the basis of caste, 
particularly the public shunning of "untouchables," is outlawed 
but is still common, particularly in the rural areas of western 
Nepal. Differentiation in economic, social, and educational 
levels tends to be a function of historical patterns, 
geographical location, and class origin. The spread of 
education and higher levels of prosperity, especially in the 
Kathmandu Valley, are slowly reducing caste distinctions and 
increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic groups. 
Although politics and senior jobs in the government 
administration and army in Nepal continue to be dominated by 
higher and better educated urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, 
Chhetris, and certain elements of the Newar community), the 
representation of other castes is slowly increasing. 

Women in Nepal also face discrimination based on sex, 
particularly in rural areas, where the weight of tradition, 
lack of education, and ignorance of the law remain severe 
impediments to the exercise of basic rights, such as the right 
to vote or to hold property in their own names. The female 
literacy rate in 1988 was 18 percent, compared to the average 
literacy rate of 33 percent. 

Over the years, women have benefited from various changes in 
marriage and inheritance laws. The divorce law grants Nepalese 
women the right to divorce, but on more narrow grounds that 
those available to men. The new Constitution strengthened 
provisions regarding women, including equal pay for equal work. 

Wife beating is said to be common, though little is known about 
its extent. Abuses occurring within the family are seldom 
mentioned owing to the value attached to personal privacy in 
Nepal's traditional society. In general, there is little 
public attention to or discussion of violence against women in 
the home . 

Trafficking in women is a deeply ingrained social problem in 
several of Nepal's poorest areas. Estimates of the total 
number of Nepalese girls and women working as prostitutes in 
the red-light districts of India's major cities vary widely but 
average around 100,000. Coercion is often involved, although 
it is impossible to gauge its extent. Newspapers occasionally 
report the arrest of men attempting to abduct young women or 
trick them into going to India. Economic incentives also 
entice many other women. In certain parts of Nepal, mothers 
raise their daughters with the expectation that they will spend 
several years in the brothels of India and then return with 
their earnings and settle in their native villages. In 
addition, the tradition of religious prostitution among the 
Badini and Devaki of western Nepal is an ongoing concern of the 
Government. The Government prosecutes instances of coercive 
trafficking brought to its attention, and the issue was 
seriously discussed in the Parliament, but few active measures 
have been taken to stop it. The reported spread of the 
acc[uired immunodeficiency syndrome in India's red-light 
districts has discouraged the Government from aggressively 
promoting the return and rehabilitation of Nepalese 
prostitutes. Government efforts thus far focus more on 



preventing voluntary prostitution than on rehabilitation. The 
Women's Development Division of the Ministry of Labor and 
Social Welfare sponsors income-generating skill training 
programs in several districts known for producing prostitutes 
to be sent to India. In Nepal's new open political atmosphere, 
a growing number of women's advocacy groups are taking up 
women's issues. Nearly all political parties have their own 
women's groups to press for women's causes. Article 114 of the 
Constitution requires that at least five percent of the 
parliamentary candidates from any given party must be women. 

Section 6 Worker JJights 

a. The Right of Association 

Article 12 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to form 
and to join unions and associations. The Constitution permits 
restriction of unions only through legal measures in cases of 
subversion, sedition, or similar conditions. Since the 
political transformation begun in 1990, there has been an 
increase in trade union activity in every sector, with 
virtually all of the unions closely linked to one of the 
political parties. Due to their recent formation, trade unions 
are still developing effective structures for collective 
bargaining, organizing, and education. 

Under current law, strikes are permitted except in "essential 
services" such as water supply, electricity, and 
telecommunications. A number of strikes took place in 1991, 
but most received little publicity and were ultimately resolved 
through compromise between labor and management. 

In June the leftist-backed Nepal Civil Servants' Organization 
(NCSO) launched a protest movement demanding an increase in 
salary and other fringe benefits. The Nepali Congress-backed 
Nepal Civil Servants Association (NCSA), however, did not 
support the NCSO, and the protest became more of a political 
issue than a labor issue. When the Government refused to raise 
civil servants' salaries without the recommendation of a pay 
commission, the NCSO agitation spread to all 75 districts of 
the kingdom, supported by the Communist parties and other 
leftist unions. The NCSO held a series of job actions which 
were at times illegal, including "pen down" strikes, sit-ins 
while wearing black armbands, and burning of the Civil Service 
Code. The Government responded by firing about 400 workers and 
suspending as many as 1,000 others. In addition, over 500 NCSO 
members were arrested for their activities. After 2 months the 
NCSO ended its protest to resume negotiations with the 
Government. Following the end of the protest, those workers 
who had been arrested were released, those suspended returned 
to work, and some of those fired were reinstated. . 

There are no restrictions in current law on forming 
confederations or joining international labor bodies. The 
largest trade union federation is affiliated with the 
Communist-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions, and the 
application of the next largest trade union organization, the 
Nepali Trade Union Congress, to join the International 
Confederation of Free Trade Unions is pending. Some individual 
Nepali unions are affiliated with International Trade 
Secretariats . 

In June the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) 
renewed its review of a 1985 complaint against the Government 
of Nepal presented by the World Confederation of Organizations 



of the Teaching Profession on behalf of the Nepal National 
Teacher's Association (NNTA) . The CFA noted the important 
political changes which had taken place in 1990, but expressed 
deep regret that the Goverrmient had not replied to its urgent 
request for up-to-date information, including assurances that 
the NNTA is no longer deemed to be an "illegal association." 
Negotiations were under way between the Government and the NNTA 
by which the NNTA would withdraw its case before the ILO if the 
Government reinstated NNTA member teachers dismissed by the 
previous government. 

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 

At present there is no legal provision in force for collective 
bargaining, although the draft Dispute Settlement Act addresses 
both discrimination and collective bargaining. In practice, 
collective bargaining has been the primary mechanism for 
setting wages since April 1990. There are no current legal 
provisions prohibiting discrimination by employers against 
union members or organizers. 

There are no special economic zones in Nepal. 

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 

Article 20 of the 1990 Constitution prohibits traffic in human 
beings, slavery, serfdom, or forced labor in any form. The 
Department of Labor enforces laws against forced labor in the 
organized sector of the economy. However, bonded labor is an 
aspect of traditional society, and over 100,000 low caste 
ethnic Tharus are estimated to be under the "Kamaiya" system of 
bonded labor in the Terai region. (See also the discussion of 
trafficking in women in Section 5.) 

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children 

The legally defined minimum age for employment of minors is 16 
in industry and 14 in agriculture. The Constitution stipulates 
that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or 
similar hazardous work. There is no compulsory education 
legislation or specific child protection act in Nepal, but the 
Government has proposed a program that will phase in, over a 
5-year period, 5 years of compulsory education and 10 years of 
free education. 

The Department of Labor enforces the minimum age law only in 
the larger enterprises of the formal sector; however, child 
workers are found in all sectors of the rural and urban 
economies. In 1990 Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), the only 
national social action group dedicated to child rights and 
welfare, estimated that 4.8 million Nepali children work at 
least part time. As with the population at large, the 
overwhelming majority of these children are engaged in family 
subsistence agriculture, but children can be found, usually 
doing menial jobs, in almost every occupation. Child 
employment is particularly common in the smaller enterprises in 
construction, carpet weaving, restaurants, garment 
manufacturing, and domestic work. 

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work 

The Government sets a minimum monthly wage in factories and in 
the organized labor sector. This wage, which has not been 
increased since July 1990, is sufficient only for the most 



minimal standard of living. Rates in the unorganized service 
sector and in agriculture are often as much as 50 percent lower. 

The Factory Workers Act stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with 1 
day off per week, plus 30 holidays or leave days, 15 days of 
sick leave, overtime limited to 15 hours per week, health and 
safety standards, and other benefits such as the provision of a 
provident fund and maternity benefits. 

Implementation of the Act has improved as a result of the 
successful pressing of demands by active labor unions since 
1990. The Labor Department is charged with enforcing 
compliance and, although performance is uneven, it has 
intervened effectively in response to labor union demands in 
some of the larger enterprises. Enforcement is less likely to 
take place in smaller enterprises of 50 workers or fewer and is 
nonexistent in the informal sector. There are no accurate data 
on industrial accident rates. 

[US Dept of State]

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