Where rape laws are defined by victim’s age

Rape laws in most countries have separate provisions for such an offence committed against minor children. But in Nepal the provisions are not limited to minors alone.

As per the existing laws on rape, someone could be sentenced to anywhere between 10 and 15 years of imprisonment if that person rapes a child below 10 years of age.

However, the punishment for rapes goes on decreasing with increase in the victim’s age. If someone rapes a girl between 10-15 years of age he would have to undergo a prison term of 8 to 12 years.

But if the victim is between 16 and 20 years of age, the sentence is a prison term of 5 to 8 years. The law stipulates 5 to 7 years of imprisonment if the victims are above 20 years of age.

Such laws which show leniency to rapists depending on their victim’s age are not only archaic but also fail to address increasing instances of sexual violence against women in Nepal.

The present rape laws in the Himalayan nation can trace their origin to the Muluki Ain, a set of legal and administrative procedures introduced in 1854 by Jang Bahadur, founder of the Rana dynasty.

Though the original set of rape laws have undergone changes through various amendments in the past they are still not adequate to provide succor to the victims and deter potential violators.

There is still no provision for life imprisonment of rapists. The 9th amendment of Muluki Ain has a law which states that those who rape a prostitute can get away with a fine of five hundred rupees or a year in prison.

Another outdated provision that still exists is the 35-day limit. It states if the victim fails to file a complaint against the rapist/rapists with that period, the case would have no legal standing.

There’s no clear data on rape cases in Nepal. One figure claims three women get raped every two days in the country while another says one rape takes place every 54 minutes.

“Unfortunately, most rape cases never come to light because the women and their families do not allow them to. No police case is filed, no trial takes place and no one is brought to justice,” says The Women’s Foundation of Nepal.

The decade long civil war followed by continued political instability and the pervading atmosphere of impunity have also added the present bleak scenario. But there are those who want change.

Encouraged by mass protests in India against the Dec 16 incident in Delhi that led to stricter laws and more stringent punishment for rapists, activists in Nepal too have sought amendment of existing laws.

From Sunday they have launched a nationwide campaign to pressurize the government to amend rape laws and set up fast track courts across the country to deal with rape cases. The campaign will continue till September 10.

The initiative is laudable, but unless there’s continued focus and media attention on the issue it could fizzle out like the Occupy Baluwatar movement against all forms of violence against women.

And with elections round the corner, victims of rapes and laws to protect them could remain sidelined — for the time being.

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