The new provision in the ordinance will discourage village leaders from settling rape cases outside the court of law

The council of ministers on Sunday took the decision to issue an ordinance by making amendments to three laws related to Criminal Code-2074, the Act related to Senior Citizens-2063 and Criminal Procedural Code-2074. The ordinance will come into force once it is authenticated by the president in a day or two. The ordnance has a provision of punishing those people found guilty of forcing reconciliation between rape victim(s) and perpetrator(s) with a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 30,000. Cops, court officials and any other public servant found guilty of this crime get an additional six months in jail. The government said it had to make amendments to “some Acts” with provisions of harsh punishment after local leaders — elected and unelected — and influential persons in society were found coercing the rape victims to opt for reconciliation with the perpetrators under threats or financial temptations. Under the Criminal Code-2074, there is no provision to settle a rape case through reconciliation or financial compensation to the victim(s). A rape case is a heinous crime nobody can settle outside the court of law.

Most of the rape cases are settled at the village level through the panchayeti (a meeting of powerful and influential people), which does not have any legal standing. The ordinance has also increased the jail term to 10 to 12 years from the existing seven to 10 years if a person is found guilty of raping a person aged 18 and above.

As per the statistics maintained by the Nepal Police, on an average, seven persons get raped in a day across the country, and more than 80 per cent of the rapes are committed by relatives and acquaintances. Most of such cases are settled through reconciliation at the village level as the perpetrators are no other than the relatives and well-acquaintances of the victims. The ordinance has also stated that even a senior citizen shall not be commuted a jail sentence if found guilty of raping a person.

Lawmakers from both the aisles of the federal parliament had been calling for harsh punishment against rapists after teenage girls were raped or murdered after rape in Saptari, Dhanusha and Bajhang in the last three months. The village heads had tried to settle these cases through reconciliation. The new provision in the ordinance will discourage the village leaders from settling rape cases outside the court of law. While many lawmakers of the ruling party have welcomed the move, the opposition lawmakers have said the issue should have been tabled in the parliament so that all the stakeholders could give more inputs on it. It may be a good move on the part of the government, but it is undemocratic to issue an ordinance to amend the laws that are of a serious nature.

Further debate is necessary on the provisions mentioned in the ordinance when it is tabled in the federal parliament for its approval. Making a law is not enough. It should be implemented thoroughly in both letter and spirit. The government should also launch a public awareness drive in society about the new provision.

Such carelessness

The government has done the right thing by seeking clarification from four health centres for failing to abide by its health standards. Accordingly, health centres are supposed to keep records of negative reports of COVID-19 tests for a month and positive reports for three months. However, Star Hospital, Central Diagnostic Laboratory, Sooriya Health Care and HAMS have been found not storing the test reports as required. The government went into action after passengers who held negative reports for the coronavirus tests carried out in these health facilities had tested positive for the virus on arrival in Hong Kong, Dubai and Japan.

The alleged negligence by either the health centres or the passengers has cost the country dear, in particular the national flag carrier, Nepal Airlines Corporation.

Following the incident, flights to Hong Kong had to be suspended for two weeks while officials at Narita Airport in Japan had served the airline a strong notice. It is not only the reputation of the airline that is at stake but also the credibility of the tests carried out in Nepal. Should such incidents repeat in the future, Nepali passengers could see a lot of hassles while travelling abroad.

A version of this article appears in print on November 24, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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