Title: Nepal Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author: U.S. Department of State
Date: March 1996
Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of
government and an independent judiciary. In 1990 the King, formerly an
absolute monarch, legalized political parties after which an interim
government promulgated a new constitution. The King retains important
residual powers but has dissociated himself from the direct exercise of
governance. The democratically elected Parliament consists of the House
of Representatives (lower house) and the National Council (upper house).
Since the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal has held three
national elections, two for the Parliament and one for local officials.
International observers consider these elections to have been generally
free and fair. The Government changed hands in September, and the
transfer of power to the new coalition was peaceful.
The national police force maintains internal security, assisted as
necessary by the Royal Nepalese Army. The army is traditionally loyal
to the King and avoids involvement in domestic politics. The police are
subject to civilian control, but local officials have wide discretion in
maintaining law and order. While the police continue to exercise
restraint in handling violent political demonstrations (with one notable
exception), they continue to be responsible for abuses in custody.
Nepal is an extremely poor country, with an annual per capita gross
domestic product estimated at around $200. Over 80 percent of its 20
million people support themselves through subsistence agriculture.
Principal crops include rice, wheat, maize, jute, and potatoes. Tourism
and the export of carpets and garments provide the major sources of
foreign exchange. Foreign aid accounts for more than half of the
development budget. The economy is mixed with 60 public sector
industries, some of which the Government has privatized.
Since political reform began in 1990, Nepal has progressed in its
transition to a more open society with greater respect for human rights.
However, problems remain because the Government fails to enforce all of
the Constitution's provisions. The police continue to abuse detainees,
often using physical abuse as punishment or to extract confessions. The
Government remains unwilling to investigate allegations of police
brutality or to take action against those involved. The authorities
employ arbitrary arrest and detention, and prison conditions remain
poor. The Government continues to impose some restrictions on freedom
of religion and expression. Lower castes and women suffer widespread
discrimination. Trafficking in women and girls and child labor remain
serious problems. Violence against women and forced labor are also
problems. The previous Government, run by the Communist Party of Nepal
United Marxist-Leninist (UML), detained and forcibly repatriated Tibetan
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings. However,
in June a man died while in police custody in Hetauda (central Nepal).
The authorities detained the man as part of the investigation of a
traffic accident despite injuries that he sustained in the accident.
The following day the police rushed the unconscious man to a hospital,
where doctors declared him dead on arrival. In Bharatpur (Central
Nepal) a 37-year-old man arrested for drunkenness died in police custody
in December. Police said he cut himself on broken glass and bled to
death. It is unclear whether he died from police abuse or medical
neglect. In January a young girl incarcerated with a parent reportedly
died from lack of medical treatment (see Sections 1.c. and 5).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
Two student activists that the police took into custody in 1993 and 1994
remain missing. The Supreme Court has investigated these
disappearances, but the police maintain that they are not holding the
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
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 to extract confessions. Credible evidence
indicates that an arrested American was kicked and beaten with bamboo
sticks by police in March. The Government has failed to conduct
thorough and independent investigations of reports of police brutality
and refused to 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 committee.
On July 24, police fired into a crowd in Mugu (western Nepal) protesting
a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister. The police injured 21 Nepali
Congress Party (NCP) members during this incident.
Political groups engaged in physical abuse and violence. Members of
opposition parties stoned bus drivers and attacked shop owners who
refused to honor nationwide strikes. On July 25, a UML member and a
Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP) supporter suffered injuries
during a clash between UML party members and a group composed of NCP and
National Democratic Party (NDP) supporters in Jumla during another
speech by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Prison conditions are poor. Overcrowding is common, and authorities
sometimes handcuff or fetter detainees. Women are incarcerated
separately from men, but in similar 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. Concerned groups estimate that 74 children
remained in prison in 1995. In January a 5-year old girl, the daughter
of an inmate, died from lack of medical treatment for a respiratory
infection, according to a human rights group (see Sections 1.a. and 5).
There has been some improvement in prison conditions. The authorities
are more likely to transfer sick prisoners to hospitals than they were
in the past. Due to the inadequacy of medical facilities in the
country, the authorities often place the mentally ill in jails under
inhumane conditions. The Government permits local human rights groups
to visit prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution stipulates that the authorities must arraign or release
a suspect 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 the detention, the law
authorizes the police to hold the suspect for 25 days to complete their
investigation, with a possible extension of 7 days. The Supreme Court
on occasion ordered the release of detainees held longer than 24 hours
without a court appearance. The police often violate this provision by
arbitrarily holding suspects.
Detainees do not have the legal right to receive visits by family
members and are permitted access to lawyers only after the authorities
file charges. In practice, the police grant access to prisoners on a
haphazard basis that varies from prison to prison. There is a system of
bail, but bonds are usually 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 that the Government detains under the Act are
considered in preventive detention and are not brought to trial.
The 1991 amendments to the Public Security Act allow the authorities to
extend periods of detention after submitting written notices to the Home
Ministry. The police must notify the district court of the detention
within 24 hours, and the court may order an additional 6 months of
detention before authorities file official charges.
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
country's 75 districts. The Act authorizes the CDO to order detentions,
to issue search warrants, and to specify fines and other punishments for
misdemeanors without judicial review. Detainees may appeal the
decisions of the CDO's.
There were no reports of political detainees.
The Constitution prohibits exile; it is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary has shown independence at the level of the Supreme Court,
but is vulnerable to pressure from political parties and bribery at
The Supreme Court ruled that important provisions in the 1992 Labor Act
and in the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act are unconstitutional. The Court
decided that the dissolution of the Parliament at the request of the
former Prime Minster in June 1995 was unconstitutional and ordered the
body restored on August 28.
Appellate and district courts have also become increasingly independent,
although they sometimes bend to political pressure. In a recent
example, a district court complied with a central Government request to
withdraw two murder charges against the current Home Minister in
November. The Home Minister holds the highest law enforcement position
in the land, and several human rights organizations have criticized this
action, even though the request is legally permissible.
The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts,
appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The King appoints judges on
the recommendation of the Judicial Council, a constitutional body
chaired by the chief justice. The Council is also responsible for the
assignment of judges, disciplinary action, and other administrative
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, and
he can suspend, commute, or remit any sentence.
Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel, who are
immune from prosecution in civilian courts. In 1992 the Supreme Court
ruled that military courts may no longer try civilians for crimes
involving the military.
The authorities may prosecute terrorism or treason cases under the
Treason Act. Specially constituted tribunals hear these trials in
closed sessions. However, no such trials took place during the year.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Government generally respected the privacy of the home and family.
Search warrants are required before search and seizure except in cases
involving suspected security and narcotics violations. As amended, 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. Within 24 hours of their issuance, warrants in misdemeanor
cases must be approved by the CDO. Court judges must approve them in
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 the Government may not censor any news
item or other reading material. Nevertheless, the Constitution
prohibits speech and writing that would threaten the sovereignty and
integrity of the Kingdom; that would disturb the harmonious relations
among people of different castes or communities; that would promote
sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or instigation to commit crime;
or that would 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 promotes disrespect toward
the King or royal family; that undermines security, peace, order, the
dignity of the King, and the integrity or sovereignty of the kingdom;
that creates animosity among people of different castes and religions;
or that adversely affects the good conduct or morality of the public.
The regulation also provides a basis for banning foreign publications.
Although there are hundreds of independent vernacular and English
newspapers representing various political points of view, most have a
small circulation and limited impact. The Government owns the
vernacular daily paper with the largest circulation. Editors and
writers at the government paper practice self-censorship and generally
reflect government policy. Ruling political parties have influenced the
editorial policy of the government paper to their advantage.
The Government owns and controls the major radio and television
stations. Radio reaches the greatest number of people and has the
largest influence. Programming currently reflects a broader range of
interests and political viewpoints than prior to 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 which can access
international news from the British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable
News Network. The Broadcast Act of 1993 allows private parties to
broadcast television and FM radio. There are two private television
stations (cable and microwave) which have been operating for over a year
in the Kathmandu Valley. They provide mainly entertainment programming
and do no local research or reporting. No private FM radio licenses
have yet been granted, although at least seven have been requested.
Some broadcasters, who have purchased equipment and are ready to begin
broadcasting, have been awaiting licenses for 2 years. A Government
station began broadcasting in November.
There has been much debate about liberalizing the media generally and
privatizing government-owned media in particular. This debate has put
pressure, so far successfully resisted, on successive governments to
open up the air waves and sell off government-controlled printing press
The Government limits academic freedom to the same extent as the media.
No overt efforts to enforce these limitations were reported this year.
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 arrest or detention for exercising these
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. Although the Government has
generally not interfered with the practices of other religions,
conversion is prohibited and punishable with fines or imprisonment, and
police occasionally harass members of minority religions. Some groups
are concerned that the ban on proselytizing limits the expression of
non-Hindu religious belief. Foreigners convicted of proselytizing can
be expelled from the country.
Eleven Christians were arrested in September 1994 for proselytizing and
sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment in August. The case received
considerable international attention. The 11 were pardoned by the King
and released on Constitution Day, November 9.
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 to foreign residents, such as Tibetans residing in
Nepal. The Government allows citizens abroad to return home and is not
known to revoke citizenship for political reasons.
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 Bhutan.
The Government has no official refugee policy and is party to neither
the 1951 U.N. Convention nor the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of
Refugees. Since 1959 the Government has accepted approximately 20,000
Tibetan refugees many of whom still reside in the country. In the mid-
1970's, the Government suspended issuance of identification cards to
Tibetans. Undocumented Tibetan residents face difficulties in obtaining
basic citizens' rights and are unable to travel abroad or access such
services as banking. Some also face possible deportation. The UNHCR
now donates blank resident identification cards to the Government for
Tibetans. Issuance resumed in early 1995. By mid-July, issuance of
identification cards to about 5,000 out of an estimated 7,000 Tibetan
residents outside the Kathmandu Valley was completed. Due to logistical
and political obstacles, issuance of identification cards to Kathmandu's
approximately 13,000 Tibetan refugees has been suspended.
China and the Government of Nepal tightened movement across their border
in 1986, but both sides have observed such restrictions haphazardly.
The authorities continued to harass Tibetan asylum seekers who tried to
cross the border from China. Border police often turn back asylum
seekers or extort money from Tibetans in exchange for passage. Early in
the year, the UML Government reversed a tacit policy of conveying
Tibetan asylum seekers to the UNHCR facility in Kathmandu for processing
and onward travel to India. Although the UML Government officially
denied any change in policy, some Tibetans apprehended in border areas
were turned over to Chinese officials and others, who had reached the
capital, were deported.
Through late July, the UNHCR had confirmed reports of forced
repatriation of about 200 Tibetan asylum seekers. The reduced number of
Tibetan asylum seekers processed by UNHCR this year reflects this
change. From February to May, only one-third of the 1993 and 1994
volume of refugees for the corresponding period was processed by UNHCR.
Various embassies and the UNHCR protested the Government's "deny and
deport" actions. As a result of these protests, the UML Government
appeared to improve its cooperation with UNHCR since July, at least in
cases that came to UNHCR's attention. In October the head of the new
coalition Government reaffirmed the previous policy of respect for
internationally respected rights for asylum seekers.
The number of ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan declined in 1995.
Nevertheless, the camps in southeastern Nepal house 90,000 refugees.
Upwards of an estimated 15,000 reside outside the camps in either Nepal
or India. The total represents over one sixth of Bhutan's estimated
population before the exodus began.
The UNHCR monitors the condition of the Bhutanese refugees and provides
for their basic needs. The Government accepts the refugee presence on
humanitarian grounds but offers 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. Violence has sometimes broken out between
camp residents and the local population. Relief organizations working
in the camps sometimes distribute token relief supplies to defuse the
situation. The German Government recently agreed to fund a 4-year
program aimed at improving conditions in communities adjacent to the
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 future repatriation. Six rounds of
bilateral talks have been held with little concrete progress.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to
Change Their Government
Citizens, through their elected representatives, have the right to amend
the Constitution with the exception of certain basic principles that
they may not change--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, loses a vote of no
confidence, or calls for elections. The Constitution grants suffrage to
all citizens age 18 and over.
The November 1994 elections were generally fair, but some irregularities
occurred, including vote tampering. A three-party coalition now has a
majority in Parliament after passing in September a no-confidence motion
against the previous minority government. In June the minority Prime
Minister had attempted to block the motion by asking the King to
dissolve Parliament and call midterm elections. The current coalition
parties challenged this action. In August the Supreme Court ruled the
former Prime Minister's request unconstitutional and ordered Parliament
restored. The transfer of power was generally peaceful.
The House of Representatives, or lower house, may send legislation
directly to the King by majority vote. The National Council, or upper
house, may amend or reject lower house legislation but the lower house
can overrule its objections. The upper house may also 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 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 habeas corpus or the right to form
associations. 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 the legislature grants approval.
The Constitution bars the registration and participation in elections of
any political party that is based on "religion, community, caste, tribe
or region," or that does not operate openly and democratically.
There are no specific laws that restrict women, indigenous people, or
minorities from participating in the Government or in political parties.
Lingering conservative traditions limit the roles of women and of some
castes and tribes in the political process. The Constitution requires
that 5 percent of each party's candidates for the House of
Representatives must be women. Seven of the 205 members of the lower
house of the current Parliament are women. In the upper house, 4 of 60
members 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 in Nepal.
These include the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON), the
Informal Sector Services Center (INSEC), and the International Institute
for Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED). The Nepal Law
Society also monitors human rights abuses and a number of
nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) focus on specific areas such as
torture, child labor, women's rights, or ethnic minorities. The police
regularly loan vehicles to human rights monitors to observe political
demonstrations. Human rights organizations contend, however, that the
Government sometimes interferes with their operations.
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 still a caste system. Discrimination against lower
castes and women remains common, especially in the rural areas of
Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common. Little public
attention is given to violence against women in the home; the Government
makes no special effort to combat it. Rape and incest are also
problems, particularly in rural areas.
Trafficking in women and girls remains a deeply ingrained social problem
in several of the country's poorest areas. Estimates of the number of
girls and women working as prostitutes in India range between 150,000
and 200,000. The best available data suggest that approximately 5,000
to 7,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 are abducted into
prostitution each year. Prostitution is also a problem in the Kathmandu
valley. A children's human rights group in Nepal states that 20 per
cent of prostitutes are younger than 16 years old. Economic incentives
entice many women to become prostitutes. In many cases, parents or
relatives sell women and young girls into sexual slavery. Among the
Badini and Devaki of western Nepal, religious prostitution remains a
The Government prosecutes some cases of coercive trafficking but takes
few active measures to stop it. The fear of the spread of AIDS by
returning prostitutes has discouraged the Government from promoting the
rehabilitation of 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 programs.
Although the Constitution strengthened laws regarding women, including
equal pay for equal work, the Government has not taken effective action
to implement its provisions. 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 discriminatory
laws remain. 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 its provisions for inheritance, land tenancy, and the
division of family property. In August the Supreme Court ordered the
Council of Ministers to enact legislation within a year giving women
equal rights consistent with the Constitution.
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 to hold property in their own names.
According to the 1991 census, the female literacy rate is 26 percent,
compared with 57 percent for men. Human rights groups report that girls
attend secondary schools at a rate one-half that of boys.
A growing number of women's advocacy groups now take up women's issues,
and nearly all political parties have their own women's group. 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.
Poverty severely limits the Government's ability to support the care of
children. Primary education for children ages 6-12 is free, but many
families cannot afford school supplies or clothing. Schools charge fees
for further education. Free health is provided through Government
clinics, but the clinics are ill equipped and too few in number to meet
the demand. Community based health programs assist in the prevention of
childhood diseases and provide some measure of primary health care and
family planning services. Due to poor or non-existent sanitation in
rural areas, many children are at risk from severe and fatal illnesses.
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, the Government
has established few such facilities. The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits
the employment of minors under 14 years of age, but employers,
particularly in the informal sector or agriculture, widely ignore the
Children under the age of 16 work in all sectors of the economy.
Children's rights groups estimate that up to one-half of children are
engaged in income generating activities. As recently as early 1994, the
carpet industry employed large numbers of children, an estimated 23,000
or approximately one-third of all workers in the industry. Due to
negative publicity in consumer nations, children now account for
approximately 5 percent of the carpet industry's labor force, about
6,000 workers (see Section 6.d.). The Ministry of Labor has undertaken
no effective initiatives against child labor.
Prostitution and trafficking in young girls remain serious problems (see
Approximately 75 innocent children under the age of 12 are incarcerated
with their parents because the Government has not established juvenile
homes. A young girl incarcerated with her parent reportedly died in
prison in January from lack of medical treatment (see Sections 1.a. and
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.
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 Government has outlawed the public
shunning of "untouchables," an exception was retained for traditional
practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic, social, and educational
advancement tend to be a function of historical patterns, geographic
location and caste. Better education and higher levels of prosperity,
especially in the Kathmandu Valley, are slowly reducing caste
distinctions and increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic
groups. Better educated, urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, and
certain elements of the Newar community traditionally dominant in the
Kathmandu valley) continue to dominate politics and senior
administrative and military positions and to control a disproportionate
share 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 the 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
Section 6 Workers Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the freedom to establish and join unions
and associations. It permits restriction of unions only in cases of
subversion, sedition, or similar conditions.
Despite the political transformation in 1990, trade unions are still
developing their administrative structures to organize workers, bargain
collectively, and conduct worker education programs. The prior UML
government "automatically" registered its own affiliated unions but
interfered in the registration of unions associated with the NCP labor
Union participation in the formal sector is significant, but it accounts
for only a small portion of the labor force. In 1992 Parliament passed
the Labor Act and the Trade Union Act, and formulated enabling
regulations. However, the Government has not yet fully implemented the
laws. The Trade Union Act defines procedures for establishing trade
unions, associations and federations. It also protects unions and
officials from lawsuits arising from any action taken in the discharge
of union duties, including collective bargaining.
The law permits strikes, except by employees in essential services. The
law empowers the Government to halt a strike or suspend a union's
activities if the union disturbs the peace or if it adversely affects
the nation's economic interests. Under the Labor Act, 60 percent of a
union's membership must vote in favor of a strike in a secret ballot for
it to be legal.
The Government does not restrict unions from joining international labor
bodies. Several trade federations and union organizations maintain a
variety of international affiliations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Labor Act provides for collective bargaining, although the
organizational structures to implement the Act's provisions have not
been established. Collective bargaining agreements cover an estimated
20 percent of wage earners in the organized sector. However, labor
remains widely unable to use collective bargaining effectively due to
inexperience and employer reluctance to bargain.
Other than the Trade Union Act, there are no legal provisions
prohibiting employers from discriminating against union members or
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits slavery, serfdom, forced labor or traffic in
human beings in any form. The Department of Labor enforces laws against
forced labor in the small formal sector, but remains unable to enforce
the law outside that sector.
Large numbers of women are still forced to work against their will 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 southern Terai region.
The Government has not yet enacted legislation or taken other
significant steps to address the issue.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed in
factories, mines, or similar hazardous work. The law also establishes
minimum ages for employment of minors at 16 in industry and 14 in
agriculture. The Constitution limits children between the ages of 14
and 16 to a 36-hour workweek. Despite the law, child workers are found
in all sectors of the economy (see Section 5).
Up to half of all children are engaged in income generating activities,
mostly in agriculture. Children constitute only an estimated 5 percent
of the employees in the export-oriented carpet industry, down from one-
third in early 1994. A consortium of carpet factory owners are moving
to establish a certification system for carpets made without child labor
(see Section 5). Few or no children work in the garment industry.
The Ministry 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 use of child labor in carpet factories.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage of $23 (1,150 rupees) for
unskilled workers in factories and in the organized labor sector. This
wage is sufficient only for the most minimal standard of living. Wages
in the unorganized service sector and in agriculture are often as much
as 50 percent lower.
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, because the Government has not created the necessary regulatory or
administrative structures to enforce its provisions. Workers do not
have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations.
Although the law authorizes labor officers to order employers to rectify
unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remains minimal.
[US Dept of State]