Nepalese women win greater rights

Posted: 1 October 2002

A new law has been passed in Nepal that will provide women with the right to conditional abortion and a raft of other benefits, including equal property rights and an end to many forms of discrimination.

The Bill, ratified by King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev on 26 September, 2002, will bring sweeping changes to existing laws and will provide equal rights to parental property to both sons and daughters; entitle divorcees and widows to a share of a husband's property; and introduce stricter penalties for child marriage, polygamy, rape and other sex crimes.

It will also provide women with the right to equal access to food, clothing, education and health treatment and the right of divorce in the case of adultery.

These measures were welcomed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which has pledged itself to work closely with the government and people of Nepal to ensure their effective implementation.

IPPF believes that only through equal rights and the empowerment of women in all spheres of society will women be able to exercise control over their own reproductive and sexual health choices.

Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in the world with a maternal mortality rate of more than 800 per 100,000 live births and an infantmortality rate of 79 per 1,000 live births.

Unsafe abortion

Under the legislation, women will be able to have abortions up to 12 weeks into their pregnancy and up to 18 weeks in case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. When pregnancy poses a danger to the physical or mental health of the mother, or where medical investigations prove that the foetus is likely to become a disabled child, the new law permits the woman to have an abortion at any time. Under previous law, both the pregnant woman and the doctor carrying out the abortion could be sent to prison.

"We are delighted by this development in Nepal. This means that hundreds of women and mothers who die as a result of unsafe abortion will able to exercise their choice and right to live," said Dr Indira Kapoor, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation's South Asia Region.

International efforts by development agencies, including IPPF, to improve reproductive health and fight maternal mortality in Nepal have been badly affected by President Bush's Global Gag Rule. Three of its largest clinics have been directly affected by the funding cuts and may close unless alternative funding is found, which would leave 20,000 women without services.

  • While the bill legalises, nearly 60 women are still languishing in Nepalese jails on abortion charges, according to a women's rights group. "Our study shows that there are 59 women who are still in jail on charges of abortion, despite the government legalizing abortion last year," said Sapana Malla Pradhan of the Forum for Women, Law and Development. The organization has filed a petition with King Gyanendra seeking amnesty for these women. It is hoped that the king will grant their release on his birthday in July.

    For more information on the work of the Family Planning Association of Nepal and IPPF, contact FPAN or IPPF