Campaign demanding changes in anti-rape laws through ordinance
KATHMANDU, Oct 1: Women in the country have always demanded effective laws to curb violence against them. Human rights activists and several organizations working for women have time and again demanded amendment of the current laws. They find the 35-day limitation for filing rape related complaints the most impractical, among others.
Amid rising number of rape cases, being reported from across the country, over dozens of organizations are currently carrying out anti-rape campaign with one of their main demands being amendment to anti-rape laws through an ordinance.
The 22-day campaign, led by National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRD), is set to continue till October 10. Over two dozens NGOs are said to be working to make the campaign successful.
However, not everyone is impressed by the campaign. Not that they are not in support of the campaign, but their indifference is stems from the belief that not much can happen in the current situation.
“Everyone knows the current atmosphere of the country. The parties are busy preparing for election and the current government has only one mandate -- holding the election. In such situation, it is least likely that the government´s attention could be drawn towards amending laws,” said sociologist Ganeshman Gurung. “This, however, does not mean that such campaigns are not important,” he added.
Senior advocate Meera Dhungana said that women´s issues have never been in priority for the government. So, it is simply not possible that the matter would suddenly be picked up by the government.
“Not only anti-rape laws, there are many other laws regarding violence against women that needs to be amended. But when has the government been sensitive towards women´s issues?” Dungana asks. “The restored parliament in 2006 could have amended the laws. Or, the successive governments could have addressed the issues. The problem is how women´s issues are viewed by male dominated society and the government.”
Dhungana added that she came across several victims of marital rape in her recent visit to far-western region. “Just a few months of jail term in the case of marital rape is not enough. The perpetrator should be jailed for at least 3 to 6 years,” she said adding that the laws related to dowry, witchcraft and untouchability, among others, need to be amended without further delay.
According to Gurung, legal approach alone would not be enough to curb the problem of violence against women, however.
Where he sees flaws is the lack of involvement of male participants in trainings and seminars conducted by the organizations working for the purpose. “What I see is the organizations try to gather only women in campaigns and other activities they carry out. Who needs more awareness are the males actually. Change would come only if they change their perspectives towards women.”
Meanwhile, President of NAWHRD Dr Renu Raj Bhandari said the demand for amendment to laws is always equally relevant as violence against women is a timeless phenomenon. She stressed that waiting for stable government to address the laws issue would not be wise in view of rising cases of rape across the country.
“As per available data, three women get raped in the country every two days, and the truth is only few rape cases are reported,” Raj Bhandari questioned.
She further claimed that political backing, primarily, protects rapists in around 80 percent of rape cases. “Due to the political affiliation to one or the other political party, rapists enjoy impunity. Victims are pressurized to either keep mum or withdraw the case,” she added. “In addition, police investigation is very weak and the legal procedure has so many hurdles that rapists are rarely punished. So we are demanding fast-track court to oversee cases of sexual violence” she added.
Meanwhile, a women rights activist who did not want to be named, said that many of the women rights NGOs are more eager to gain popularity rather than genuinely make efforts to really help women in need. “Lack of genuine efforts and concerns regarding the issue of violence against women is equally responsible for continuation of such crimes in the society. The approach of the organizations is often very superficial,” she said. "Moreover, they never reveal how much donation they get for carrying out programs and how much they actually spent for the causes. This is the reason why people criticize NGOs."
Besides immediate amendment to rape laws, formation of a fast-track court, the campaign demands drafting of directives for the police to make investigation process more effective in rape related cases. Other demands include preparation of necessary laws to recognize discrimination against rape victims as social offense, enforcing the provision of penalty for the perpetrators and ensuring rape and sexual violence victims´ rights as per the international conventions such as CRC and CEDAW.
As per the current provision, the law slaps a man with 8 to 12 years of imprisonment for raping 14 to 16 year old girl, 5 to 8 years of imprisonment for doing it against 16 to 20 year-old, and just 5 to 7 years of jail term when the victim is above 20 years of age. Similarly, raping someone below 10 years of age fetches a convict 10 to 15 years of jail term. And if victims fail to file case against perpetrators within 35 days, the case is not even pursued by the law.
On the other hand, psychologist Karuna Kunwar Bista, who has dealt with several cases of sexual abuse, in her 13-year career insists upon focusing on psychological and spiritual aspects of perpetrators equally importantly. She added that only external factor of the issue is discussed regarding rape, while the real causes of sexual abuses are never analyzed.
“It is true that we need strict laws. However, only the law cannot address the problem of violence against women,” she said. “Psychological counseling for rapists is very important to ensure that they get a chance to transform their life. Not only rapists, all other criminals should be approached in the same way.”
Published on 2013-10-02, http://www.myrepublica.com/