After the belly of a 13-year-old girl from Rolpa, western Nepal, started getting bigger abnormally, teachers at her school were surprised. One day, she felt dizzy and fainted in the school’s playground and was rushed to a hospital. Later, it was found that she was in the last month of pregnancy.
Being asked about the pregnancy, she told a horrific incident of being raped by her uncle. After a few days, she gave birth to a child. It was months later that her family filed a rape complaint against the uncle, in 2020.
After the investigation, the police forwarded a case for prosecution. The district court of Rolpa sentenced the uncle to 20 years of imprisonment.
But the neighbours and relatives did not consider it a good decision. They, on the contrary, slandered her saying that she had sent her uncle to jail.
This miserably affected the survivor. No one stood for her and she left the village. Now, she lives in the house of her aunt (the father’s sister). She has not been home for the last two years.
As this case demonstrates, a lot of rape survivors in the country may have got justice from the court but not from society.
Another incident, also from Rolpa, is also similar to the above case. An 18-year-old motherless girl was raped by her father for a long time. Her father used to give her birth control pills and rape her. But once, she got pregnant and came to know about it in the eighth month.
In January 2022, the girl filed a complaint against her father at a police station. The district court of Rolpa sentenced the father to 24 years of imprisonment.
But after this, she had to bear more trouble. She gave birth to the child, which brought to her a plethora of problems in the village. There was no favourable environment for her to live in the village. The relatives and neighbours started passing hate comments to her and the child. They started blaming her for putting her father in prison.
“The relatives blamed me, saying that I committed a mistake by sending my father to prison,” says the survivor. “Then, I couldn’t stay in the village.”
For the last two years, she has been working as a dishwasher in a hotel in Liwang, the district’s headquarters. She says, “My father destroyed my life. I suffered a punishment even without committing any mistakes.”
No relief for rape survivors
The two cases discussed above show the challenges and difficulties that rape survivors have to go through in society even after getting justice from the court. Court verdicts send perpetrators behind the bars, but the survivors are still struggling to live respectful lives.
According to rights activists, justice cannot be delivered to rape survivors just by imprisoning the culprits.
“In such incidents, the family and relatives are reluctant to accept the verdict of the court,” says activist Tirtha Acharya. “The state should provide to the survivors.”
“If the state does not take the responsibility of rehabilitating the survivors in the family and society with respect, the court verdicts will have no meaning,” she says.
Mainly due to the patriarchal mindset, the rape survivors are deprived of justice in Nepali society, says Nirmal Gautam, an assistant professor of sociology at Mahendra Multiple Campus, Dang.
“In a patriarchal society, the practice of blaming survivors is high. Such conditions can invite more heinous crimes like rape,” says Gautam.
Likewise, this will also give courage to the perpetrators, he adds. He says, “Our law regarding rape survivors should be revised because it does not guarantee a dignified life for them.”
Women rights activist Deepa Dhital says that rape survivors have to face difficulties at every step. According to her, firstly, efforts are made to suppress the cases as they do not get support from family and relatives. Due to this, many survivors do not want to go for a legal solution.
Dhital further says that usually, no one helps rape survivors. As the family and social environment do not take a stand for the survivors, they have to fight alone for justice.
Children at high risk
According to a report by police, in the last three years, 7,115 cases of sexual violence were recorded across Nepal. In most cases, many survivors are children below 16 years old.
In the same period, 4,618 children have been raped. The number is growing each year. According to police headquarters in the fiscal year 2019/20, the number of rape cases against children was 1,393, but in 2020/21, it surged to 1,665. In 2021/22, it was 1,560.
Another fact revealed by the police report in the case of rape survivors is that children are unsafe inside their homes. There are many cases where they have been raped by members of the family and acquaintances.
“Majority of survivors have been raped by family members,” says Poshraj Pokharel, the spokesperson of Nepal Police. “The children get easily tempted and cannot confront. So, the culprits take advantage of their innocence and make them their prey.”
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.