Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution established the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In 2017, the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal.
The Nepal Police are responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The Armed Police Force is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and Armed Police Force report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The Nepali Army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective authority over the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Army. Human rights organizations documented some credible abuses by members of the security forces.
Significant reported human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and unjustified arrests of journalists; substantial interference with peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, and operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for human rights abuses and gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government investigated but did not widely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability nor did nearly any conflict-era human rights violators. The government made attempts to investigate and hold officials accountable for corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, particularly among members of marginalized communities. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Ministry of Home Affairs are authorized to examine and investigate whether security force killings were justified. NHRC has the authority to recommend action and to record the name and agency of those who do not comply with its recommendations. The attorney general has the authority to pursue prosecutions. Between 2015 and 2020, 52 complaints of unlawful killings were registered with the NHRC. According to a report by the human rights group Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance, 12 of 18 custodial deaths they reported from 2015-20 occurred among members of the Dalit, Madhesi, or other marginalized communities.
On January 31, police in Jumla district arrested 13-year-old Padam Buda for stealing a mobile phone. According to NGO and media reports, he was allegedly beaten with a pipe, after which he was taken to Karnali Health Science Academy, where he died on February 17. A committee, led by an undersecretary from the Ministry of Home Affairs, was constituted in February and concluded its investigation, but the report has not been made public. On September 12, the government provided 500,000 rupees ($4,200) compensation to the victim’s family.
In June 2020, Shambhu Sada, a member of the Dalit minority community, died in police custody in Dhanusha District. Sada, a truck driver, turned himself in to police after a traffic accident where he hit and killed a woman. Police reported the cause of death as suicide; however, Sada’s family and community believe police killed Sada or drove him to suicide through physical and emotional torture. Sada’s mother-in-law visited him three days before his death and stated that Sada looked scared and told her that he feared for his life. On April 29, Sada’s mother filed a writ of mandamus at the Janakpur High Court after the Dhanusha District Police Office and District Attorney Office denied registering an investigation into his death. In response to this writ, the High Court asked the District Prosecutor, High Government Attorney’s Office, and District Administration Office, to furnish a written reason for not registering the case. On July 1 and July 2, the District Public Prosecutor’s Office and High Government Attorney’s office responded, stating that the reason for not investigating the case was that it had been declared a suicide. As of October, the writ of mandamus had not been decided by the High Court.
In July 2021 the Chitwan District Court sentenced Chiran Kumar Buda from the Nepali Army to nine months imprisonment for death by negligence, a fine of 9,000 rupees (approximately $75), and 200,000 rupees ($1,680) compensation to the victims, in the death of Raj Kumar Chepang. In July 2020 Chepang and six friends were arrested for foraging in Chitwan National Park. They were released later in the day, but Chepang complained of physical discomfort when he arrived home. His health deteriorated and he died on July 22 from injuries that his family and the community alleged were sustained while in custody.
The law formally criminalizes enforced disappearance; however, it is not retroactive and has a statutory limitation of six months. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the NHRC, 746 cases of disappearances remain unresolved, most of which the NHRC says may have involved state actors. During the year no new conflict-era cases were registered. Additionally the NHRC completed investigation and recommended action to the government for 56 cases (45 by the government and 11 by Maoists). As of December, the government had not prosecuted any Maoists or government officials, sitting or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the persons the NHRC identified as having been disappeared by state actors. In 2017 the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. As of June the commission had before it 3,197 registered cases and ultimately decided 2,506 warranted detailed investigation.
Human rights organizations continued to express concern over flaws in the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, and the CIEDP (see section 5). According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations were hampered by inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to provide confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses. According to NGOs, the CIEDP has not been able to clarify the fate of a single case of enforced disappearance. On August 29 and 30, the Nepal Human Rights Organization Advocacy Forum provided legal assistance to 13 families of victims that tried to file cases of enforced disappearance with police in different districts of the country. Police denied the registrations, saying they had been ordered not to register the cases.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture, and the law criminalizes torture, enumerates punishment for torture, and provides for compensation for victims of torture; however, the statute of limitations was only six months.
According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. Advocacy Forum estimated that torture and mistreatment in detention centers continued at the same levels as in prior years, although it was not able to collect data by visiting detention centers and interviewing detainees. Advocacy Forum also reported that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees.
In 2019 Advocacy Forum reported that 19 percent of the 1,005 detainees interviewed reported some form of torture or ill treatment. These numbers were even higher among women (26.3 percent) and juvenile detainees (24.5 percent).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, four allegations of rape by Nepalese peacekeepers deployed to the UN stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo were submitted during the year. Each allegation involved rape of a child. As of September, the government was investigating the allegations. A 2018 allegation involving sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of two children was found to be unsubstantiated and the case was closed.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due to lack of prosecution of alleged perpetrators. In custodial torture and death cases, victims or their family members must file a report in the nearest police station, which is often the same police station that committed the abuse. Police are reluctant to register and initiate investigation against their colleagues or superiors, and victims are often hesitant to file complaints due to intimidation by police or other officials and fear of retribution. In some cases, victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. Advocacy Forum and Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance noted the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented. The Nepal Police Human Rights Unit reported that four officers were subject to departmental action for physical and mental abuse. According to Advocacy Forum’s 2021 Countering Impunity in Torture report, however, no perpetrator of torture has been convicted since the endorsement of the 2017 Penal Code that criminalized torture.
On July 22, the government promoted Dipendra Bahadur Chand, despite an October 2020 recommendation by the NHRC that he face criminal charges for his involvement in an extrajudicial killing in 2018. Chand was part of a police team that allegedly killed Gopal and Ajay Tamang on August 6, 2018. A two-year NHRC investigation led by a former Supreme Court justice concluded that Gopal and Ajay Tamang were executed after their arrest, and the encounter was staged to cover up the incident. The police instead claimed that Gopal and Tamang, who were suspected of kidnapping and killing an 11-year-old boy from Kathmandu, were shot during a confrontation in the woods.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet national or international standards due to overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure, and poor sanitation and medical care, according to human rights groups.
Physical Conditions: Prisons were overcrowded. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reported in its nationwide assessment of prisons that facilities held 200 percent of the designed capacity of inmates. Advocacy Forum stated that overcrowding and poor sanitation remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG and Advocacy Forum, prisons and detention centers lacked basic infrastructure like water and electricity. Advocacy Forum reported that some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and that many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding. The OAG reported that while some prisons had health officials, other detention centers or juvenile reform homes had only weekly visits by medical practitioners. According to Advocacy Forum, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory and medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions.
Some facilities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial child detainees with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents. Under the law, children should only be kept in juvenile reform homes and not in prison. According to Advocacy Forum, juveniles were sometimes observed with adult detainees. There were no separate facilities for persons with disabilities. Women were kept in separate facilities, but the facilities also lacked basic amenities.
Administration: Authorities including the OAG conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment. Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, as well as by lawyers of the accused. NGOs are prevented from accessing detention facilities and can only meet detainees at the gate. Some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. Human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time).
If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation and file a criminal charge sheet. In special cases that timeframe is extended. For narcotics violations, a suspect can be held for up to three months; for suspected acts of organized crime, 60 days; and for suspected acts of corruption, six months. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the law vests too much discretionary power with police and court officials. The constitution provides for detainees’ access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system did not provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants. Independent organizations, however, provided free legal services to a limited number of detainees accused of criminal violations. Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. A functioning bail system exists; the accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.
Arbitrary Arrest: The human rights NGO Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) documented 80 incidents of arbitrary arrest (without timely warrant presentation) from January to mid-September.
Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence and no person may be held in detention for a period exceeding the term of imprisonment that could be imposed on him if he were found guilty of the offense.
Under the law security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime if the detention complies with the law’s requirements. The courts have no substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the law.
According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. Advocacy Forum estimated in 2018 that 14 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests, down from 41 percent in 2015. Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation.
The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial. These rights are largely honored, except for the right to counsel and the right to be present at one’s own trial, which were sometimes ignored. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant once the charge sheet establishes a prima facie criminal violation. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who were unaware of their rights, in particular “lower-caste” individuals and members of some ethnic groups, were thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. The courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak or understand Nepali, and interpreters were made available to interpret a variety of languages. Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal.
Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The law requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances, the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the army has told the government it was willing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and CIEDP. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals or organizations may seek remedies for human rights abuses in national courts.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these provisions.
The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted if two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there were relatively few checks against police abuse of discretionary authority.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government tended to respect these rights. Nonetheless, journalists, NGOs, and political activists stated the government restricted media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the government, leading to reports of self-censorship. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that both the constitution and law enable the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example the constitution lists several circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.”
Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could express their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. The government continued to limit freedom of expression for members of the country’s Tibetan community through its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events (see section 2.b.).
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, generally without restriction. Under the law any person who makes harsh comments on social media or another online site against a senior government official can be charged with a crime. In August police arrested Rautahat Express owner Mohammad Mojibullah and journalist Shekh Gulab for possession of 105 nitravet tablets when the two exited a hotel in Ward 1 of Gaur Municipality. It was later determined that police had planted the illegal drugs in the motorbike of the journalists. The fraud came to light after the Rautahat chapter of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) found closed-circuit television footage showing two individuals planting the drugs in the journalists’ bike, allegedly on the instruction of Assistant Subinspector Udaya Shankar Yadav and Constable Manoj Sah. Police suspended the personnel accused of framing the journalists and launched an investigation into the incident.
Violence and Harassment: There were several press freedom abuses including threats and attacks on journalists who reported on corruption, and the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of media. On May 25, journalists who wrote about an alleged meeting between former prime minister Oli and Supreme Court Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana were summoned by the Supreme Court. The court also issued a press statement refuting the news as “misleading” followed by a warning of “legal actions” if publication of such news were to persist.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication, or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.
Journalists and NGOs stated that constitutional provisions and laws criminalize normal media activity, such as reporting on public figures, which sometimes resulted in self-censorship by media. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions were not enforced against any media outlets. Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. The penal code, for example, extends the scope of limitation on freedom of expression compared to the language in the constitution for national security and for maintaining public order, and defines defamation as a criminal offense. The FNJ argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship.
On August 31, a steady stream of inflammatory language against a foreign assistance program and threats of violence from agitators opposed to that program caused a local private television station to pull public service announcements funded by that program. A group of Swagat Nepal supporters and another group led by Nirga Raj Jaishi went to the television station and threatened violence against the station’s property and staff if it continued to air the announcement. After delivering the ultimatum, Nirga Raj Jaishi posted a video on YouTube threatening to “cut the neck” of anyone who advocates for the foreign assistance program. As a result of these threats, the station abruptly stopped airing the public service announcement, and several political leaders tweeted support for the decision to self-censor without referring to the threats of violence.
Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code defines defamation as a criminal offense. On February 9, police arrested lawmaker Ram Kumari Jhakri for allegedly making offensive remarks against President Bidya Devi Bhandari. Political parties and civil society members called the detention of Jhakri arbitrary and unlawful and pressured the government to release her from detention the same day. According to NGOs, police acted at the behest of former prime minister KP Sharma Oli in order to silence his opponents, particularly the rival faction of his own party. Jhakri’s arrest came at a time when the Oli government was planning to introduce a directive to regulate the use of social media and social networking sites.
The government has the authority to restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were several incidents in which authorities acted under the law in response to material posted on social media. The law prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize harmonious relations.” The online media operation directive requires all domestically based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new directive makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s value added tax or permanent account number registration certificate. Renewals require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content.
On April 25, police arrested Anis Tamang, executive editor of Ujyalo Network, under the Electronic Transactions Act for publishing a forged four-point agreement between then prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli and the chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, Samant Goel. On April 15, Ujyalo carried the news with a falsified document marked as “classified” and signed by Oli and Goel. The document was widely circulated in social media but not carried by mainstream media, and many social media users doubted the authenticity of the document. Press Council Nepal, which monitors in-country media and journalistic standards, noted seven different online portals had carried this news story, all of which later apologized for and deleted or corrected their coverage.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, except for events in the Tibetan community, which faced restrictions (see section 2.b.).
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly and association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions, especially for minority communities. Government permits are required to hold large public events. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.
The government continued to limit freedom of association and peaceful assembly for members of the Tibetan community, including by denying requests to celebrate publicly certain culturally important events, such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and deploying large numbers of police offices to Tibetan settlements to monitor private celebrations of this and other culturally important events, including Tibetan Uprising Day and Tibetan Democracy Day.
Tibetan leaders and NGOs expressed concern over the government’s scrutiny of their activities, especially during the December 2020 and April 2021 parliamentary and presidential elections of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Tibetan leaders reported that Tibetans in Nepal were not freely allowed to cast their vote to elect their representatives. Police detained 13 Tibetans, raided the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office, and confiscated ballots. In July for the first time, Tibetan election officers and staff were detained for conducting an election of a local representative in Kathmandu Valley.
On January 25, police used water cannons and batons on demonstrators against the dissolution of the House of Representatives in the Baluwatar area of Kathmandu. According to INSEC, police injured several human rights defenders, including a former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) was restrictive and cumbersome, the government had wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements varied among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis.
Additionally, the law empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow these directions. To receive foreign or government resources, NGOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council, the government entity responsible for overseeing NGOs. NGOs expressed concern that the approval process was not transparent – and that low level officials have the power to stall the approval process almost indefinitely.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and generally respected these rights, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly.
In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 25 years, leaving most of this refugee population without the required documents to present at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints. The government also restricted the movement of urban refugees of various nationalities whom the government considered irregular migrants (see section 2.f.).
Foreign Travel: The government maintained strict criteria for women traveling overseas for domestic employment, stating it was to protect women from trafficking or other abuse in overseas employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed these restrictions and prior bans on women under certain ages from traveling to Gulf countries for work as discriminatory and counterproductive because they impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border, rendering them more vulnerable to exploitation (see section 7.d.).
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2020 led to 48,000 displacements.
Many internally displaced persons (IDP) from the 2015 earthquake remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.
Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement had not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliament estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property matters, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns, since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.
The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, except as noted. The National Unit for Coordination of Refugee Affairs (NUCRA) – under the Home Ministry – signed an agreement with UNHCR on the provision of electronic migration and continuous verification of personal data of Bhutanese refugees (Data sharing Agreement) in September 2020.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized only Tibetans and Bhutanese as refugees and regarded the approximately 725 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities as irregular migrants. The government continued to support the resettlement to foreign countries of certain Bhutanese refugees, while requiring other refugees accepted for third country resettlement to pay substantial penalties for illegal stay before granting exit permits. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the approximately 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remain undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since then. Government opposition to registration has prevented revisions to these estimates. UNHCR reported 663 refugees and 60 asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.
Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,365 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 37 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, 37 in 2018, 23 in 2019, nine in 2020, and two as of September. The government does not issue exit permits to Tibetan new arrivals. While Tibetans based in the country with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque, and travel documents were typically valid for up to three years and a single trip. A government directive authorizes chief district officers to skip the verification step, which requires witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied fines for each day out of status and a substantial discretionary penalty to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.
Employment: Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees were officially denied the right to work.
Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The children born in the country to Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. The government also provided COVID vaccinations to virtually all refugees living in the country by July, specifically including them in the administration of vaccines donated by a foreign government. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions, nor were they eligible for professional licensing in fields such as medicine, nursing, and engineering. They were also unable to legally obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or own property. Some refugees continued to experience difficulties documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.
The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to urban refugees, but these refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work. In particular the government officially does not allow the approximately 6,365 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship to work. During the year local governments in areas close to Bhutanese refugee settlements allowed the refugees access to public schools and hospitals.
Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. Since 2007, the government has permitted third-country resettlement for more than 113,000 Bhutanese refugees.
g. Stateless Persons
An estimated 6.7 million individuals lacked citizenship documentation, although the majority of these would be eligible for citizenship under local law. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land and immobile property, access higher education, appear for professional examinations, work in the civil service, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.
Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship limited women’s ability to convey citizenship to their children (see section 6, Women, Discrimination), which contributed to statelessness. Legal provisions also make it more difficult for marginalized groups including landless individuals, former bonded laborers, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community to obtain citizenship as do lack of knowledge and corruption. NGOs assisting individuals lacking citizenship documentation stated that local authorities maintained patriarchal requirements, such as attestations from a woman’s male relatives that she qualified for citizenship, a measure that impeded attempts by some individuals to obtain citizenship certificates.
Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage and birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is illegal, with minimum prison sentences that vary between five and 15 years, depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of women with disabilities. The law prohibits interference with a victim’s ability to file a complaint, including through coercion, threat, or force, and the law also prohibited mediation as an alternative to legal action, with a punishment of up to three year’s imprisonment and a fine. If the perpetrator of such coercion or threats is someone holding a public position, he or she will be imprisoned for an additional six months. The law imposes a fine for rape, which should be provided to the survivor as compensation. It also mandates recording the testimony of the survivor when the initial charges are filed at the court to prevent the survivor from later refusing to testify due to coercion or social pressure. The country’s definition of rape does not include male survivors. Male survivors may file a complaint under the ‘unnatural’ sexual offense penal code; the highest punishment is up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although stigma and societal pressure make it difficult for rape victims to secure justice. Government and NGO contacts all report increases in the number of rape and attempted rape cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May 2020 Angira Pasi, a 13-year-old Dalit girl, was raped by Birenda Bhar, a 25-year-old non-Dalit man in Rupandehi District, Devdaha Municipality. Villagers, including the ward chair, decided the girl should marry Bhar, because she would otherwise be considered unsuitable for marriage due to the rape. After the marriage, Bhar’s mother refused to let Pasi enter the house and beat her. Bhar took Pasi to a nearby stream and hours later her body was found hanging in a manner that her relatives said would have been impossible for her to carry out herself. Bhar’s family offered 200,000 rupees ($1,680) to keep the incident quiet, and police initially refused to register the case. After the NHRC and national attention focused on the case, police detained Bhar, his mother, and his aunt. In November 2020, the Butwal High Court released Bhar’s mother and aunt on bail. Bhar remains in police custody and the case is pending trial in Rupandehi District Court.
Human rights activists expressed concern that police outside of Kathmandu frequently refused to register cases of gender-based violence, including occasionally rape cases. These groups reported that police often preferred to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts. In October 2019, allegations of rape against Speaker of Federal Parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara led to his resignation at the request of Prime Minister Oli and the ruling Nepal Communist Party. In February 2020, the Kathmandu District Court acquitted Mahara due to lack of evidence after the victim recanted her story, allegedly due to threats. A doctor also questioned her credibility due to the influence of alcohol and history of taking medication for depression. On July 27, the Patan High Court upheld the Kathmandu District Court’s February 2020 decision.
Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. NGOs reported that violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was one of the major factors responsible for women’s relatively poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization and contributed to intergenerational poverty. The law allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.
The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 77 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to Women, Children and Senior Citizens Service Directors, all 233 women’s cells across the country located in all 77 districts were in operation. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, observers reported this guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.
The government maintained service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of gender-based violence. Gender experts said the service centers have improved coordination among police, the NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution criminalizes violence against women or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The penal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes fines, prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The law also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing substantial fines, prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the law stipulates that any psychological abuse of women, including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry, is punishable. Nevertheless, according to NGOs, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence and forced marriage, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.
Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, and members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. In fiscal year 2020-21, the Nepal Police registered 61 cases of witchcraft accusations and subsequent torture, a 74 percent increase over the prior year.
The law criminalizes acid attacks and imposes strong penalties against perpetrators; it also regulates the sale of acids.
The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in livestock sheds) continued to be a serious problem. The law stipulates a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a token fine, or both. Some local officials implemented various efforts to eliminate chhaupadi, including education campaigns and physical destruction of sheds, but stigma and tradition maintained the practice, particularly in rural western districts, where women sometimes died from exposure to the elements. According to news reports, after antichhaupadi campaigns destroyed chhaupadi huts, family members, often mothers in law, still forced women and girls to remain isolated. Some women and girls in rural areas resorted to sleeping in sheds, animal pens, or caves throughout the winter and the monsoon season.
Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months imprisonment, a fine, or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are inadequate, and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. who became pregnant outside of marriage, especially while working abroad, faced considerable social stigma. Although illegal, child marriage remained prevalent, especially in rural areas, and many girls faced social pressure to have children before being emotionally ready and before their bodies were able to bear children safely. Contraception was available to both men and women, although cultural norms impeded access for adolescents and single women, and some were denied services by individual health workers.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors. Victims of sexual violence had access to sexual and reproductive health services in government hospitals, including emergency contraception, psychosocial counseling, and there were one-stop crisis management centers in each of the 17 districts. Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley also provide sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of physical and sexual violence.
According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2017 was 186 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 236 deaths in 2015. Skilled birth attendants assisted in 77 percent of deliveries according to the NMICS compared with 56 percent in 2014. The NMICS reported 95 percent of women received antenatal care services and 89 percent were attended to at least once by skilled health personnel. According to the 2015 Health Facility Survey, services for the management of sexually transmitted infections were available in 74 percent of facilities countrywide. Normal childbirth delivery services were available in about half of facilities countrywide, but in only 33 percent of facilities in the Terai region in the south of the country.
Discrimination: The law contains discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.
The constitution does not allow women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to citizen wives.
For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases, husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives to stake their own claims.
Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.) and especially in rural areas. Dalit women in particular faced gender and caste discrimination. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access to and authority over the estate of their deceased husbands; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce these provisions.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of or violence against Dalits and tried to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also establishes the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits. Dalit rights activists maintained that the laws against discrimination were too general and did not explicitly protecting Dalits. They said most cases go unreported, and those that are reported rarely result in official action. In May 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned attacks against Dalit minorities and noted that impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remained prevalent in the country.
The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.
Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas. According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.
On June 15, television presenter, journalist, and human rights activist Rupa Sunar was denied an apartment based on her caste; a landlord refused to rent an apartment to Sunar because she was Dalit. According to human rights NGOs, the police were reluctant to register a case under the Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offense and Punishment) Act, 2011. The case was filed on June 17 and police arrested the landlord on June 20. The landlord was released without bail on June 23, with the case to be heard by a court at an undetermined future date.
In May 2020, six youth, including four Dalits, were killed in what activists characterized as the most violent attack on Dalits in the modern history of the country. Nawaraj Bishwokarma and a group of friends were attacked by a mob of villagers, including the local ward chair Dambar Malla, when he tried to elope with his Chhetri caste girlfriend. According to survivors of the attack and some local officials, villagers chased the young men to a nearby riverbank, beat them to death with stones, sharp weapons, and pieces of wood, and threw their bodies in the river. The Ministry of Home Affairs and House of Representatives formed committees to investigate the incident, and the NHRC sent a team to investigate. As of mid-September, 34 accused persons were arrested. Authorities released 11 of these persons, including the mother of the girl, who was released on bail in June 2020. A total of 23 accused currently remain in police custody and the Rukum District Court is collecting statements from witnesses as of January 2022. The next hearing is scheduled for February 11, 2022.
The government recognized 59 ethnic and caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many individuals faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination. Activists report that indigenous groups lack adequate protections and risk losing access to their lands and territories due to encroachment from mining, hydropower, and real estate companies.
Birth Registration: Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the parent, which contributed to statelessness (see section 2.g.). There was no difference in birth registration policies and procedures based on the sex of the child.
The constitution states that citizenship derives from one citizen parent, but also stipulates that a child born to a citizen mother and a noncitizen father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of citizen parents, even when the mother possessed citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application.
The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent but be eligible for naturalization. Many single women faced difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration for birth and citizenship of children of citizen mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but he refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.
Naturalization is subject to state discretion. Although they lacked specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.
Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The law divides the education system into basic education (early childhood development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and secondary education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2020 school year, 94.7 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity.
Some children, particularly girls, face barriers to accessing education due to lack of sanitation facilities, child marriage, geographic distance, costs associated with schooling, household chores, and lack of parental support. Countrywide, nearly a third of schools lack separate toilet facilities for girls, which can deter them from attending school, especially when they are menstruating. Barriers for attending school for school-age boys include pressure to find employment, migration to work outside the country, and problems with drugs and alcohol. Children with disabilities face additional barriers to accessing education, including denial of school admission. Children are required to attend school only up to age 13; this standard makes children aged 13 and older vulnerable to child labor despite not being legally permitted to work.
Medical Care: The government provided basic health care without cost to children and adults, although quality and accessibility varied. Parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.
Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to greater awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the National Child Rights Council.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20, but the country has a high rate of child marriage and childbearing among girls. According to UNICEF, nearly a third of young women ages 20-24 reported they were married by the age of 18, and 7.9 percent by age 15.
Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The law provides that the government must act whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse, including sex trafficking.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and exploited for child sex trafficking, including by tourists, and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (sometimes fronts for brothels). Enforcement was generally weak due to limited police capacity and investigative efforts, and police sometimes arrested girls in commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years.
There is no specific law against child pornography, but the law stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed.
Displaced Children: Many children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.e.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.
Institutionalized Children: Abuse, including sexual abuse, and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately one-third of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation, but there was no reliable data on the many unregistered homes. NGOs reported some children in the institutions were forced to beg. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years. Specific information on the status and conditions of children with disabilities who were institutionalized was not available.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was a small Jewish population in the country and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contain additional specific rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all citizens with physical disabilities who are “financially poor” and the provision of accessible instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities. NGOs report that a few public buildings, roads, and schools had become accessible, but most are still inaccessible.
The government provides services for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including a monthly stipend, shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each of 753 local governments. The law provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. The government implementation of laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities, although improved, still was not fully effective. For example, books printed in braille were not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education was not uniformly available to all interested persons with disabilities.
The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of 3,990 rupees ($34) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled, and 2128 rupees ($18) for “severely” disabled persons. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Three provincial governments funded sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in obtaining government services.
The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. The government does not report the percentage of students with disabilities who attend schools. The country has 380 resource classrooms for students with disabilities, 33 special education schools, and 23 integrated schools. The number of students enrolled was low compared to the number of children without disabilities. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens reported that most of the 753 municipalities have allocated funding to minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, under the new federal system. Most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.
There are no restrictions on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, however, there were obstacles in exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV and those at high risk of HIV remains common, according to NGOs. There was no official discrimination against persons in high-risk groups that could spread HIV or AIDS. Most health care facilities run by government and NGOs provide HIV services to HIV-infected and affected populations.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTQI+ rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. On January 21, police reportedly assaulted and arrested 16 third gender (LGBTQI+) commercial sex workers at a bus park in the Gongabu area of Kathmandu. Media reported that the incident began when a man groped and assaulted a transgender woman. Other members from the LGBTQI+ community intervened and the police arrived, but rather than arrest the man, they beat the women with rifle butts, batons, and sticks. According a prominent LGBTQI+ rights organization, multiple third gender persons sustained injuries and two needed stitches.
No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and LGBTQI+ persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTQI+ persons, but LGBTQI+ activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.
While the government does not have coercive medical practices targeting LGBTQI+ individuals, many districts require gender-affirming surgery or an application to the Nepal Medical Council, which requires surgical interventions and certification from the hospital that performed the procedure to change gender markers on identity documents.
According to local LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). LGBTQI+ activists reported challenges obtaining COVID-19 vaccines and relief because their name and appearance did not match their citizenship documents. Advocacy groups stated that some LGBTQI+ persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.
Although several LGBTQI+ candidates ran for office in local elections in recent years, LGBTQI+ activists noted that election authorities prevented one person in 2017 who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor in a rural municipality of Myagdi district, Gandaki Province because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. Separately, LGBTQI+ activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting due to harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.
According to LGBTQI+ rights NGOs, there were some instances of harassment and abuse of LGBTQI+ persons by private citizens and government, especially in rural areas.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join unions of their choice, except those organizations deemed by the government to be subversive or seditious. Freedom of association extends to workers in both the formal and informal sectors. Noncitizens cannot be elected as trade union officials or form unions.
Certain workers have the right to strike and bargain collectively, except for employees in what the government defines as essential services, including public transportation, banking, security, and health care. Members of the armed forces, police, and government officials at the undersecretary level or higher also are prohibited from forming or taking part in union activities.
The law prohibits workers from striking in any special economic zone. One special economic zone in Bhairahawa, near the Indian border, is operating.
The law stipulates that unions must represent at least 25 percent of workers in a given workplace to be considered representative. The minimum requirement does not prohibit the formation of unofficial union groups, which under certain conditions may call strikes and negotiate with the government. Workers in the informal sector may also form unions, but due to the strong political affiliation of many of these unions, nonaffiliated individuals often remain excluded or unaware of this right.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights such as discrimination. Enforcement in the private and informal sectors, however, remains a challenge. A labor court addresses violations of labor laws and other issues related to labor.
The law protects union representatives from adverse legal action arising from their official union duties, including collective bargaining, and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Workers dismissed for engaging in union activities can seek reinstatement by filing a complaint in labor court or with the Department of Labor, which has semi judicial and mediation authority. Most cases are settled through mediation. The law stipulates that participation in a strike that does not meet legal requirements constitutes misconduct, for which the consequences can be suspension or termination of employment.
To conduct a legal strike, 51 percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor in a secret ballot, and unions are required to give 30 days’ notice before striking. If the union is unregistered, does not have majority support, or calls a strike prior to issuing 30 days’ notice, the strike is considered illegal.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Although the government restricted strikes in essential services, workers in hospitals, education services, and the transportation sector occasionally called strikes during the year and did not face any legal penalties. Many unions had links to political parties and did not operate independently from them but worked effectively to advance the rights of workers. The government did not interfere in the functioning of workers’ organizations or threaten union leaders.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law and the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor. Kamlari is one such form of illegal slavery in which girls as young as four years and women across all age groups were forced to work as bonded laborers in the houses of rich landlords. The government did not provide support, such as financial assistance or educational opportunities, to adequately reintegrate newly freed women and girls into society. Several nonprofit organizations operated checkpoints along the country’s border with India, where human trafficking was still a problem, and play an important role in victim detection and raising awareness among women and children at a higher risk of human trafficking and slavery.
Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The government did not effectively screen for labor trafficking among abused migrant workers and handled such cases administratively in lieu of criminal investigation. In addition, despite reports of worker exploitation, including trafficking, and illegal recruitment fees charged by recruitment agencies, the government did not sufficiently investigate agencies for violations. The penalties for violating laws against bonded labor involve fines and compensation to victims, with no imprisonment, and are not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Labor trafficking is prosecuted as a criminal offense and punishments are commensurate with other serious crimes.
Forced labor, including through debt-based bondage, of adults and children existed in agriculture, brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, and domestic work. A government study documented more than 61,000 individuals – including approximately 10,000 children – in forced labor over the past five years, especially in agriculture, forestry, and construction. NGOs reported some children worked in brick kilns, including carrying loads, preparing bricks, and performing other tasks at kilns for extended periods.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and establishes 14 as the minimum age for work and 17 as the minimum age for hazardous work, and it defines and mandates acceptable working conditions for children. The law prohibits employment of children in factories, mines, and 60 other categories of hazardous work and limits children between the ages of 16 and 17 to a 36-hour workweek (six hours a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., six days a week). The types of hazardous work prohibited for children do not include brickmaking, where work involves carrying heavy loads and being exposed to hazardous substances. Employers must maintain separate records of laborers between the ages of 14 and 17.
The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and practices, did not effectively do so. Labor law enforcement was centralized and the number of labor inspectors at the provincial levels remained inadequate. The Department of Labor conducted most of its inspections in the formal sector while nearly all child labor occurred in the informal sector. The department had 14 factory inspector positions in district labor offices and two senior factory inspector positions in Kathmandu. Chronic vacancies in these positions, however, limited the department’s effectiveness. Some of these positions were vacant due to regular rotation of civil servants, and resources devoted to enforcement were limited. Although labor inspectors periodically received training on child labor laws and inspection, this training did not necessarily adhere to any formal schedule.
A broad range of laws and policies were designed to combat and eventually eliminate child labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Child labor, including forced child labor, occurred in agriculture, domestic service, portering, recycling, and transportation; the worst abuses were reported in brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, the carpet sector, embroidery factories, and the entertainment sector. In the informal sector, children worked long hours in unhealthy environments, carried heavy loads, were at risk of sexual exploitation, and at times suffered from numerous health problems (see section 6, Children).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, geographical or social origin, language, marital status, physical or health condition, disability, or ideological conviction. Labor regulations prohibit discrimination in payment or remuneration based on gender. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights.
There are no provisions in the constitution, law, or regulations prohibiting discrimination, including labor discrimination, based on color, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, refugee status, national origin or citizenship, HIV or AIDS-positive status, or other communicable diseases. To be eligible for government jobs, Nepali national origin or citizenship is mandatory. Certain groups, such as lower-class women, minority groups, persons with disability, marginalized groups, Muslims, gender and sexual minority groups, youths, peasants, laborers, and other disadvantaged groups are stated to have the right to employment in state structures based on “the principle of inclusion.”
Authorities restrict domestic work in Gulf countries for Nepali women to protect them from exploitation and violence, including with conditions a labor destination country must meet. Civil society organizations note that these conditions are so stringent that they remain a de facto ban for women traveling for domestic employment.
Despite constitutional and legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, caste, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Such discrimination was most common in the informal sector, where monitoring by the government and human rights organizations was weak or absent and those in disadvantaged categories had little leverage or recourse. In the formal sector, labor discrimination generally took the form of upper-caste men without disabilities being favored in hiring, promotions, and transfers.
According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens and disability rights advocates, the overall rate of employment of persons with disabilities did not increase significantly. In the private sector, large numbers of persons with disabilities claimed they were denied work opportunities or dismissed due to their conditions. In all sectors, employees with disabilities reported other forms of discriminatory treatment.
According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the government made little progress in implementing antidiscrimination legal provisions to assure employment opportunities for lower-caste individuals in both the public and private sectors. There was no comprehensive data on this abuse.
Structural barriers and discrimination forced Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves, or making leather products.
For every 100 employed men, there were only 59 employed women, and the average monthly income for women was 6000 rupees ($50) less than what men earn. make up 58 percent of the population earning 7,600 rupees ($65) per month but only 12 percent of those earning more than 25,000 rupees ($ 210). Patriarchal attitudes and unequal gender division of labor has long been identified as a factor causing inequality with direct links to lower income, education, and access to finance.
Reliable data on discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in various sectors was not available, but activists reported it was common for gender and sexual minorities to be denied promotions and competitive opportunities within security services and athletics.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage exceeded the official poverty line, but it was minimally sufficient to meet subsistence needs.
The law stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with one day off per week and one-half hour of rest per five hours worked. The law limits overtime to no more than four hours in a day and 20 hours per week, with a 50 percent overtime premium per hour. Excessive compulsory overtime is prohibited. Employees are also entitled to paid public holiday leave, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, and other special leave. The law provides benefits such as a provident fund, housing facilities, day-care arrangements for establishments with more than 50 female workers, and maternity benefits.
The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The ministry did not employ enough inspectors to enforce the wage and hour laws or the occupational health and safety laws. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and the number of worksite inspections was low. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. Most factories in the formal sector complied with laws on minimum wage and hours of work, but implementation varied in the informal sectors.
Occupational Safety and Health: Implementation and enforcement of occupational health and safety standards were minimal, and the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security considered it the most neglected area of labor law enforcement. The law provides adequate occupational health and safety standards and the ministry found violations across sectors, including in construction, mining, transportation, agriculture, and factory work.
The government had not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce occupational safety and health provisions. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security did not have a specific office dedicated to occupational safety and health, nor did it have inspectors specifically trained in this area. Although the law authorizes factory inspectors to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remained minimal, and monitoring was weak. Accurate data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available. Labor law and regulations provide for protection of workers from work situations that endanger their health and safety, but in small and cottage industries located in towns and villages, employers sometimes forced workers to work in such situations or risk losing their jobs. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.
The government regulated labor contracting or “manpower” agencies recruiting workers for overseas jobs, and penalized fraudulent recruitment practices. The government declared it remained committed to its free-visa, free-ticket scheme, but according to migrant rights NGOs, the government failed to implement the policy effectively. Some government officials were complicit in falsifying travel documents and overlooking recruiting violations by labor contractors. The Department of Foreign Employment introduced measures to reduce the number of registered manpower agencies and more closely scrutinize their activities. The myriad unregistered and unregulated labor “brokers” and intermediaries, who were often trusted members of the community, complicated effective monitoring of recruitment practices. Workers were also encouraged to register and pay a fee to the Foreign Employment Board, which tracked migrant workers and provided some compensation for workers whose rights were violated. As in 2020, the suspension of international flights and the economic impact of COVID-19 prevented workers from traveling for a significant portion of the year and made it difficult to evaluate the impact of any measures.
The government required contracts for workers going abroad to be translated into Nepali and instituted provisions whereby workers must attend a predeparture orientation program. During the orientation workers are made aware of their rights and legal recourse, should their rights be violated. The effectiveness of the initiatives remained questionable since workers who went overseas often skipped the mandatory training, and many companies issued predeparture orientation certificates for a small fee and failed to deliver the training. Migrant workers heading abroad often continued to face exploitive conditions.
Informal Sector: According to the International Labor Organization, more than 70 percent of the economically active population was involved in the informal economy, and over 90 percent of women were employed in the informal sector including domestic service. A rapid study published by the Home Workers’ Trade Union of Nepal in late 2020 showed that the pandemic and lockdowns had left more than 85 percent of domestic workers unemployed and without a safety net. Minimum-wage laws apply to both the formal sector and the informal sector, but implementation was stronger in the formal sector. Violations occurred in informal agriculture, transportation, domestic servitude, brick kilns, carpet industries, construction, and small hotels and restaurants.