TITLE: NEPAL HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE: FEBRUARY 1995
Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of
government. In 1990 the King, formerly an absolute monarch,
legalized political parties and an interim government
promulgated a new Constitution. The King retains important
residual powers but has dissociated himself from the day-to-day
excercise of governing. The democratically elected Parliament
consists of the House of Representatives and the National
Council. A parliamentary election was held on November 15.
Observers considered it free and fair. The election resulted
in a victory for the United Marxist and Leninist party (UML),
which formed a new government.
The national police force maintains internal security, assisted
as necessary by the Royal Nepalese Army. Local officials have
wide discretion in maintaining law and order. A positive
development was police exercise of considerable restraint in
handling violent political demonstrations. However, police
mistreatment of criminal suspects continued.
Nepal is an extremely poor country, with an annual per capita
gross domestic product estimated at around $210. Over 80
percent of its 20 million people support themselves by
subsistence agriculture. The export of carpets and garments,
along with tourism are the major sources of foreign exchange.
Foreign aid covers more than half of the development budget.
The Government seeks to liberalize the economy and provide a
greater role for the private sector.
Since the beginning of political reform in 1990, Nepal has
progressed in its transition to a more open society with
greater respect for human rights. However, problems remain.
Police continue to torture detainees. The Government's
unwillingness to investigate allegations of police brutality or
take actions against those involved remaines a serious
concern. The Govenment continues to impose some restrictions
on freedom of expression, and trafficking in women and child
labor remain serious problems. Women and the lower castes also
suffer widespread discrimination.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
In January an angry crowd attacked police after a police
subinspector poured boiling water on a woman shopkeeper in
Jhapa. The police fired on the crowd, killing 1 person and
wounding 30. The authorities later suspended the subinspector
but took no other actions against him or other officers.
The Government refused to investigate police officers
responsible for the 1993 killing of more than two dozen persons
in leftist-inspired political demonstrations and strikes.
However, the Government has compensated the families of some of
Killings by political groups increased during and after the
November 15 general elections. In September several members of
the radical leftist United People's Front killed a Nepali
Congress Party (NCP) worker on his way to a party meeting in
Rukum District. On October 27, unknown assailants killed an
NCP worker in Dang District. One week later, eyewitnesses
claim that senior NCP workers were among those who shot dead
three Communist Party workers marching in a procession toward
the NCP's office in Dang District. An NCP worker was shot dead
on November 5 in Ilam District; the authorities arrested eight
members of the National Democratic Party for the killing.
According to unconfirmed reports, the police killed two members
of the radical United Peoples Front on November 27, after they
fired on the police officers in Rolpa District.
Reported political killings continued after the election. In
December the NCP reported that six of its workers were killed
in political violence after the formation of the new Government.
In June police removed from a Kathmandu hospital a student on a
hunger fast in protest over government inaction on pollution;
the student has not been seen since. In October the Supreme
Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, but the police maintained
that they were not holding the student. The case remains
unsolved. The case of a student activist taken into custody by
police in June 1993 also remains unsolved, despite an ongoing
inquiry by the Supreme Court.
The Government continues to refuse to publish the report of the
Disappearances Commission, a body established to investigate
all disappearances in the period from December 1960 to the
beginning of the political transformation in 1990. Human
rights monitors remain skeptical of the Government's claim that
the report's findings do not warrant governmental action. They
express concern that persons responsible for disappearances
remain in positions of authority.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture, the law does not
define torture as a criminal offense. The police commonly use
physical abuse to punish suspects or extract confessions. The
Government failed to conduct thorough and independent
investigations of reports of police brutality, nor did it take
significant disciplinary action against officers involved. The
Constitution provides for compensation for victims, but a
compensation bill introduced in Parliament in 1993 remains in
Charges of cruel treatment by police continued in 1994. During
periods of political unrest in the spring and summer, the
police reportedly abused several persons arrested at
leftist-sponsored political protests. However, there were
several clear incidents of torture. Police in Patan
headquarters kicked and beat on the soles of the feet a
foreigner arrested in January for drug trafficking. Several
policemen held a stick across his thighs and jumped on it
repeatedly, causing temporary paralysis. Police denied that
any such abuse occurred, but a doctor examined the man and
judged that his allegations were credible.
In January a group of policemen beat the hand and leg joints of
a man from Bara who filed a complaint against a police officer
who allegedly had had an affair with the man's mother. In
response, an angry crowd gathered outside the station. The
police opened fire and wounded six persons. The authorities
transferred the police officer involved in the affair but took
no other action.
In October the authorities arrested a man in Ilam District and
charged him with illegally cutting wood. To extract a
confession, forest guards reportedly beat the man, inserted
pins under his fingernails, and beat the soles of his feet.
The man was released from custody after a court found him not
The authorities continued to harass Tibetan asylum seekers who
tried to cross the border from China. In February security
forces badly beat a Tibetan apprehended crossing the border
near Kodari. Approximately a dozen soldiers repeatedly kicked
the man in the face and beat him with rifle butts, which
resulted in temporary blindness and the loss of several teeth
(see Section 2.d.).
Political groups also engaged in physical abuse. Shopkeepers
and bus drivers were stoned and beaten by members of leftist
opposition parties after they refused to honor nationwide
Overcrowding is common in prisons and authorities sometimes
handcuff or fetter detainees. Women are incarcerated
separately from men, in equally poor conditions. The
Government has not implemented a provision in the 1992
Children's Act calling for the establishment of a juvenile home
and juvenile court. Consequently, children are sometimes
incarcerated with adults--either as criminals or with an
incarcerated parent. In May the Jail Management Department
reported that 83 children below the age of 12 years were in
There has been improvement in prison conditions. The
authorities are more likely to transfer sick prisoners to
hospitals than they were in the past. However, because of the
inadequacy of medical facilities in the country, the
authorities often place the mentally ill in jails under
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides that a suspect must be arraigned or
released within 24 hours of arrest, but the police often
violate this provision. Under the Public Offenses Act of 1970,
the police must obtain warrants for an arrest unless a person
is caught in the act of committing a crime. For many offenses,
the case must be filed in court within 7 days of arrest. If
the court upholds detention, the police are authorized up to 25
days, with a possible 7-day extension, to complete their
investigation. The Supreme Court on occasion has ordered the
release of detainees held longer than 24 hours without a court
Detainees do not have the legal right to be visited by family
members and are permitted access to lawyers only after the
authorities file charges. Instead, the granting of access is
haphazard and varies from prison to prison. There is a system
of bail, but bail is too expensive for most citizens.
Under the Public Security Act, the authorities may detain
persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and
tranquility, amicable relations with other states, and
relations between citizens of different classes or religions.
Persons detained under the Act are considered in preventive
detention and are not brought to trial. In 1994 the
authorities used the Act primarily to detain groups of youths
and mob leaders in advance of scheduled demonstrations. They
released most detainees within 48 hours.
Human rights groups report that supporters of the leftist
parties are sometimes arrested and detained arbitrarily and
subjected to unwarranted criminal investigations because of
their political affiliation.
Under the 1991 amendments to the Public Security Act, the
police are authorized to extend periods of detention after
submitting written notices to the Home Ministry. The district
court must be notified of a detention within 24 hours and may
order an additional 6 months of detention before official
charges must be filed.
Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit arbitrary
detention. This Act and its many amendments cover such crimes
as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting.
Under this Act, the Government detained hundreds of civil
servants during a 55-day antigovernment strike in 1991. Human
rights monitors express concern that the Act vests too much
discretionary power in the Chief District Officer (CDO), the
highest ranking civil servant in each of the 75 districts.
Under the Act, he is authorized to order detentions, issue
search warrants, and specify fines and other punishments for
misdemeanors without judicial review. Detainees may appeal the
decisions of the CDO's.
The Constitution prohibits exile, and it is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts,
appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The King appoints the
judges on recommendations from the Judicial Council, a
constitutional body chaired by the Chief Justice. The Council
is also responsible for the assignments of judges, disciplinary
action, and other administrative matters.
The Constitution provides for the right to counsel, protection
from double jeopardy and retroactive application of the law,
and public trials, except in some security and customs cases.
All lower court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to
appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal, but the
King may grant pardons or suspend, commute, or remit any
The Supreme Court has increasingly demonstrated its
independence. It has ruled that important provisions in the
1992 Labor Act and the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act are
unconstitutional. Appellate and district courts have become
increasingly independent, although they sometimes bend to
Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel
who are immune from prosecution in civilian courts. In 1992
the Supreme Court ruled that civilians may no longer be tried
in military courts for crimes involving the military.
The authorities may prosecute terrorism or treason cases under
the Treason Act. Such trials are closed and are heard by
specially constituted tribunals. However, there were no such
trials in 1994.
There is no credible evidence that the Government holds
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Government generally respects the privacy of the home and
family. Search warrants are required before search and
seizure, except in cases involving suspected security and
narcotics violations. Under the Police Act of 1955, as
amended, the police are authorized to issue warrants for search
and seizure. Such warrants must be approved within 24 hours by
the Chief District Officer in misdemeanor cases and court
judges in felony cases.
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, and that no news article or any
other reading material shall be censored. Nevertheless, the
Constitution prohibits speech and writings that would threaten
the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom; disturb the
harmonious relations among people of different castes or
communities; promote sedition, defamation, contempt of court,
or instigation to commit crime; or contradict decent public
behavior or morality.
The Press and Publications Act provides for the licensing of
publications and the granting of credentials to journalists.
The Act includes penalties for violating these requirements.
The Act also prohibits publication of material that, inter
alia, promotes disrespect toward the King or royal family or
undermines the dignity of the King, the integrity and
sovereignty of the Kingdom, and security, peace, and order;
creates animosity among the different castes amd religions; or
adversely affects the good conduct or morality of the public.
In 1992 the Government issued regulations amending the Act
which established requirements for education and work
experience to hold particular jobs in journalism. The
regulations also provide a basis for banning foreign
There are scores, if not hundreds, of independent newspapers
representing points of view across the political spectrum. The
two dailies with the largest circulation are government
sponsored. Their editors generally reflect government policy,
but they occasionally publish articles critical of the
Government and recommend alternative policies. The Ministry of
Communication occasionally provides editors with guidance. The
Government subsidizes newsprint materials to allow
un-profitable papers to stay in business.
The Government owns and controls the sole radio and television
stations. Programming currently reflects a broader range of
interests and political viewpoints than before the beginning of
the political transformation in 1990, but still closely follows
the government line. The Government does not restrict access
to foreign radio broadcasts or to the purchase of television
satellite dishes. The Broadcast Act of 1993 allows private
parties to broadcast television and FM radio. No private FM
radio license was granted in 1994 although an application has
been pending for months. Two private television cable services
began operations in Kathmandu in 1994, carrying foreign
entertainment programs only.
The Government limits academic freedom to the same parameters
as the media. No overt efforts to enforce these limitations
were reported in 1994.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly,
this right may be restricted by law on such vague grounds as
undermining the sovereignty and integrity of the State or
disturbing law and order. There were no reports of arrests or
detentions for exercising these freedoms in 1994. However,
hundreds of persons were arrested before and during violent
strikes and demonstrations organized by leftist parties.
Protest leaders from radical leftist groups were placed in
preventive detention before scheduled demonstrations on a
number of occasions. Most were released after the
c. Freedom of Religion
The majority of citizens are Hindu. The Constitution describes
Nepal as a Hindu kingdom, although it does not establish
Hinduism as the state religion. The Constitution permits the
practice of all religions and prohibits discrimination on the
basis of caste except for traditional religious practices at
Hindu temples. The Government has not interfered with the
practice of other religions. There is concern among
non-Hindus, however, that a constitutional prohibition against
converting another person could be used to limit expression of
religious beliefs. The authorities arrested 11 Christians in
Ilam District in October for proselytizing near the entrance of
a Hindu temple and blocking public access.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement and
residence, and the Government generally does not restrict
travel abroad. However, the Government restricts travel to
some areas on the Chinese border to foreign tourists and
foreign residents, such as Tibetan refugees. The Government
allows citizens abroad to return home and is not known to
revoke citizenship for political reasons.
The Government has no official refugee policy and is not party
to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
However, in the past, the Government accepted and assimilated
approximately 18,000 Tibetan refugees who still reside in
Nepal. In the mid-1970's, the Government ceased issuing
identification cards to over 12,000 Tibetan residents. They do
not have legal proof that they live in Nepal. Some of these
undocumented residents who wished to travel abroad in 1994
faced difficulties from authorities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has
maintained an office in Kathmandu since 1989. The Government
aids UNHCR's efforts by facilitating access to refugees from
both China and Bhutan.
The Governments of Nepal and China tightened movement across
their border in 1986, but both sides observe such restrictions
haphazardly. The authorities continued to harass Tibetan
asylum seekers who tried to cross the border with China. In
some cases, border officials demand bribes from would-be
refugees (see Section 1.c.). In some instances fighting has
occurred between would-be refugees and the police.
In August the police fired on a group of 10 Tibetans who
crossed the border in the Humla District, injuring 3 persons.
One man was wounded by gunfire below the knee and his leg was
later amputated. The police claim that they were forced to
open fire after the Tibetans attacked them and grabbed their
weapons in an attempt to escape The Tibetans claim that the
police attempted to rob them.
As in previous years, the Government continued to use force to
repatriate Tibetans to China against their will. Reliable
information is unobtainable, but some reports suggest the
problem increased in 1994.
Ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan continued to arrive in 1994 (see
the report on Bhutan). At year's end, the camps in
southeastern Nepal housed 86,000 refugees, with another 15,000
to 20,000 residing outside the camps. These residents
represent over one-sixth of Bhutan's estimated population
before the exodus.
The UNHCR monitors the condition of the Bhutanese refugees and
provides assistance for their basic needs. The Government
accepts the refugee presence on humanitarian grounds but is
able to offer little more than a place to stay. Living
conditions in the camps have improved dramatically since 1992.
Adequate clean water is available and health, sanitation, and
nutrition standards are acceptable. Conditions are actually
somewhat better than those found in nearby areas. Consequently
violence has sometimes broken out between camp residents and
the local population. Relief organizations working in the
camps sometimes distribute token relief supplies to local
communities to defuse the situation.
In 1993 the Governments of Nepal and Bhutan formed a joint
committee to resolve the refugee problem and to determine
different categories of refugees in preparation for their
future repatriation to Bhutan. However, four rounds of talks
have led to little concrete progress.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
After a parliamentary defeat in July, the Prime Minister
requested the dissolution of Parliament and called for new
elections. The second parliamentary election in three decades
was held on November 15. Citizens exercised their right to
change their government by voting out the NCP and returning the
UML party to power. Although there were some irregularities,
observers concluded that overall the elections were free and
fair. The UML won 88 seats, the NCP 83, the National
Democratic Party 20, the Nepali Workers and Peasants Party 4,
and Sadbhavana Party 3, and independents 7. The King invited
the UML to form a new government in November.
The people, through their elected representatives, have the
right to amend the Constitution with the exception of certain
basic principles which they may not changed--sovereignty vested
in the people, the multiparty system, fundamental rights, and
the constitutional monarchy.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled every 5 years. Midterm
elections may be called if the ruling party loses its majority,
or loses a vote of no confidence, or if it calls for
elections. Suffrage is universal to all citizens of age 18 and
The House of Representatives, the lower house, may send
legislation directly to the King by a 50-percent vote. The
upper house, or the National Council, may amend or reject lower
house legislation--although it may introduce legislation and
send it to the lower house for consideration.
The King exercises certain powers with the advice and consent
of the Council of Ministers. These powers include exclusive
authority to enact, amend, and repeal laws relating to
succession to the throne. The King's income and property are
tax-exempt and inviolable, and no question may be raised in any
court about any act performed by the King. The Constitution
also permits the King to exercise emergency powers in the event
of war, external aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic
depression. In such an emergency, the King may suspend without
judicial review many basic freedoms including the freedoms of
expression and assembly, freedom from censorship, and freedom
from preventive detention. However, he may not suspend the
right to form associations and of habeas corpus. The King's
declaration of a state of emergency must be approved by a
two-thirds majority of the lower house of Parliament. If the
lower house is not in session, the upper house exercises this
power. 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 Constitution bars the registration and participation in
elections of any political party based on "religion, community,
caste, tribe or region," or that does not operate openly and
There are no specific laws that restrict indigenous peoples,
women, or minorities from participating in the Government or
political parties, but lingering conservative traditions limit
the influence of women and some castes and tribes in the
political process. The Constitution requires that each
registered party must nominate at least 5 percent of its
candidates for the House of Representatives. Women constituted
5 percent of party candidates in the November election. Seven
of 250 Members of Parliament are women.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
There are a dozen nongovernmental human rights organizations,
including the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON) and
the Informal Sector Services Center (INSEC). The Nepal Law
Society also monitors human rights problems, and a number of
single-issue nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) focus on
specific problem areas such as torture, child labor, women's
rights, or ethnic minorities.
The police regularly lend vehicles to human rights monitors to
observe political demonstrations. However, human rights
organizations contend that at times the Government interferes
with their operations. For example, in May government
personnel entered and inspected the offices of the Kathmandu
chapter of Amnesty International. The authorities claimed that
they carried out a survey of the office in accordance with
administrative norms, but several human rights groups
maintained that a warrant was required for such a survey and
organized a protest march.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution specifies that the State shall not
discriminate against citizens on grounds of religion, race,
sex, caste, or ideology. However, there is a caste system.
Discrimination against lower castes and women is common,
especially in the rural areas of western Nepal.
Although the Constitution strengthened provisions regarding
women, including equal pay for equal work, the Government has
not taken effective action to implement this provision. Women
have benefited from various changes in marriage and inheritance
laws. In 1994 the Supreme Court struck down as
unconstitutional provisions of the Citizenship Law that
discriminated against foreign spouses of Nepalese women.
However, many laws remain discriminatory. The law grants women
the right to divorce--but on narrower grounds than those
applicable to men. The Law on Property Rights also favors men
in a number of ways, including the division of family property,
inheritance, and land tenancy.
Women face discrimination, particularly in rural areas, where
religious and cultural tradition, lack of education, and
ignorance of the law remain severe impediments to their
exercise of basic rights, such as the right to vote or hold
property in their own names.
According to the 1991 census, the literacy rate among females
is 26 percent, compared with 57 percent among males. Human
rights groups report that girls attend secondary schools at a
rate half that of boys.
Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common.
Little public attention is given to violence against women in
the home and the Government made no special efforts to combat
Trafficking in women is a deeply ingrained social problem in
several of the poorest areas. Estimates of the number of
Nepalese girls and women working as prostitutes in India range
between 150,000 to 200,000, although prostitution in the
Kathmandu Valley is also a problem. A children's human rights
group states that 20 percent of the prostitutes are younger
than 16 years old. Women and girls are usually coerced into
prostitution, but the extent of coercion is difficult to
determine. Newspapers occasionally report the arrest of those
attempting to abduct young women or dupe them into going to
India. Economic incentives entice many other women. In many
cases, parents or relatives sell women and young girls into
sexual slavery. Among the Badini and Devaki of western Nepal,
religious prostitution is a continuing problem.
The Government prosecutes some cases of coercive trafficking
but takes few measures to stop it. The spread of the acquired
Immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in India's red-light districts
has discouraged the Government from promoting the return and
rehabilitation of Nepalese prostitutes.
Government efforts focus more on preventing voluntary
prostitution than on rehabilitation or prevention of coercive
trafficking. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare sponsors
job and skill training programs in several poor districts known
for sending prostitutes to India. Several NGO's have similar
There is a growing number of women's advocacy groups, and
nearly all political parties have their own women's groups.
Female Members of Parliament have begun working for the passage
of tougher laws for crimes of sexual assault, but have had
little success so far.
The Child Act of 1992 provides legal protection for children in
the workplace and in criminal proceedings. Although it calls
for the establishment of child welfare committees and
orphanages, few such facilities have been established. The
Labor Act of 1992 prohibits employment of minors under 14 years
of age, but employees widely ignored the law.
Children under the age of 16 work in all sectors of the
economy. Children's rights groups estimate that up to half of
Nepal's children are engaged in income-generating activities.
At the beginning of 1994, child labor in the carpet industry
was prevalent, but the problem lessened by year's end.
Government officials and carpet manufacturers concerned about
negative publicity moved to eliminate child labor and some
factories are establishing schools to retrain child laborers
(see Section 6.d.).
Prostitution and trafficking in young girls are serious
problems (see Section 5.).
Approximately 80 innocent children under the age of 12 are
incarcerated with their parents because the Government has not
established juvenile homes (see Section l.c.).
Nepal has over 75 ethnic groups speaking 50 languages. The
Constitution provides that each community "shall have the right
to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture." It
further specifies that each community has the right to operate
schools up to the primary level in its mother tongue.
Discrimination against lower castes is especially common in the
rural areas of western Nepal. Although the public shunning of
"untouchables" has been outlawed, an exception was retained for
traditional practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic,
social, and educational advancement tend to be a function of
historical patterns, geographical location, and caste. 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 higher and better educated urban-oriented castes
(Brahmin, Chhetri, and certain elements of the Newar community)
continue to dominate in politics and senior administrative and
military positions, the representation of other castes and
ethnic groups is slowly increasing.
The Government has moved slowly in establishing programs for
ethnic minorities and has not enacted any legislation to
safeguard their rights. Most government officials are Brahmin,
Chhetri, or Newar. Other groups or castes not in the governing
elite are unable to participate fully in decisions affecting
their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of
natural resources in their territories.
In remote areas, school lessons and national radio
transmissions are often conducted in the local language.
However, in areas with nearby municipalities, education at
primary, secondary, and university levels is conducted almost
exclusively in Nepali. Human rights groups report that the
languages of the small Kusunda, Dura, and Meche communities are
nearly extinct, and that non-Hindu peoples are losing their
People with Disabilities
There are no government programs specifically designed to deal
with the problems faced by disabled persons, nor has
legislation been enacted to mandate accessibility to public
buildings or to employment, education, and other state
services. Persons who are physically disabled normally rely on
family members to assist them.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the freedom to establish and join
unions and associations. It permits restrictions of unions
only in cases of subversion, sedition, or similar conditions.
Following the beginning of the political transformation in
1990, trade unions are still developing their adminstrative
structures to organize workers, bargain collectively, and
conduct worker education programs. Although trade unions were
initially associated with political parties, they are becoming
Union participation in the formal sector is significant, but
this sector employs a very small portion of the labor force.
In 1992 the Parliament passed the Labor Act and the Trade Union
Act and formulated enabling regulations. However, the laws
have not yet been fully implemented. The Trade Union Act
establishes the procedures for establishing trade unions,
associations, and federations. It also protects unions and
officials from lawsuits arising from any actions taken in the
discharge of union duties, including collective bargaining.
The law permits strikes, except by employees in "essential
services" such as water supply, electricity, and
telecommunications. The Government is empowered to halt a
strike or suspend a union's activities if the union disturbs
the peace or adversely affects the nation's economic
interests. Under the Labor Act, a legal strike must be
approved by 60 percent of a union's membership in a vote by
secret ballot. However, several illegal strikes took place in
1994, especially to protest retrenchment in public enterprises
under the Government's administrative reform program. Most
received little publicity and were ineffective.
Even though implementing legislation is not yet in place, some
unions are moving ahead quickly. The Nepal Trade Union
Congress, a national federation representing nearly 200,000
members, held its first national convention in February.
The Government does not restrict unions from joining
international labor bodies. Several trade federations and
union organizations maintain a variety of international
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Labor Act provides for collective bargaining. Although the
organizational structures (e.g., labor courts) to implement the
Act's provisions have not been established, collective
bargaining has been the primary mechanism for setting wages
since April 1990. An estimated 20 percent of wage earners in
the organized sector are covered by agreements.
Other than the Trade Union Act, there are no legal provisions
prohibiting discrimination against union members or organizers
by employers. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The 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 small formal sector
but is unable to enforce the law outside that sector.
Large numbers of women are forced to work against their wills
as prostitutes (see Section 5). Bonded labor is a continuing
problem, especially in agricultural work. Bonded laborers are
usually members of lower castes. Over 25,000 ethnic Tharu
families are estimated to be under the "Kamaiya" or bonded
labor system in the Terai region. The Government has not yet
enacted legislation or taken other significant steps to address
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed
in factories, mines, or similar hazardous places. The law
establishes a minimum age for employment of minors at 16 in
industry and 14 in agriculture. Children between the ages of
14 and 16 are limited to a 36-hour workweek. Despite the law,
child workers are found in all sectors of the economy (see
Up to half of Nepal's children are engaged in income generating
activities, mostly in agriculture. At the beginning of 1994,
children constituted as much as one-third of the workers in the
export-oriented carpet industry. This figure dropped to about
5 percent at year's end after negative publicity prompted the
Government and manufacturers to move to eliminate child labor
in carpet factories. The Government is working with the carpet
industry to establish a certification for carpets made without
The Department of Labor's enforcement record is improving. In
the urban formal sector, it has had some success in enforcing
laws relating to permanency, minimum wage, and holidays.
Government inspectors are also increasing their monitoring of
the abuse of child labor in carpet factories.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage of $23 (1,150 rupees)
in factories and in the organized labor sector. This wage 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 International Labor
Organization has noted that the Government has undertaken an
effort to ensure that female workers receive equal pay for
The Labor Act calls for a 48-hour workweek, with 1 day off per
week, and limits overtime to 20 hours per week. Health and
safety standards, and other benefits such as a provident fund
and maternity benefits, are also established in the Act.
Implementation of the new Labor Act has been slow, as the
Government has not created the necessary regulatory or
administrative structures to enforce its provisions. Workers
do not have the right remove themselves from dangerous work
situations. Although labor officers are authorized to order
employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety
standards has been minimal. (###)
[Source: US Dept of State]