A young woman’s TikTok account of how she was drugged, raped and then blackmailed by a beauty pageant organizer when she was 16 sparked outrage in Nepal and prompted calls to reform the country’s “grossly inadequate” rape laws.
In one of a series of videos, which together have been viewed millions of times, Former model and child actress Sushmita Regmi broke down in tears while speaking about Nepal’s statute of limitations which dictates that survivors must report cases of rape within one year of the offence.
Days after the videos were posted on the social networking site on May 18, hundreds of protesters took to the streets calling for changes to the country’s rape laws, and on May 24 six lawyers filed a petition with the supreme court demanding the statute’s repeal.
As a result of public pressure, a man named Manoj Pandey, owner of Model Global Visas Consultancy, has been arrested in connection with the case that allegedly occurred in 2014 and had as a victim one of the contestants of the pageant. But the arrest was made under a section of the law related to human trafficking.
“The law is not exhaustive. It leads to so much injustice. It has to be changed. There are so many loopholes in the rape law, most particularly in the statute of limitation and the definition of rape.”Dechen Lama, a human rights lawyer who also works for the Forum for Women, Law and Development, a Nepalese rights organization, told The Guardian.
The 2017 Nepal Penal Code extended the statute of limitations for reporting rape claims from 35 days to one year. A report by the international women’s rights organization Equality Now found that, compared to five other South Asian countries, Nepal has the shortest statute of limitations in cases of sexual violence.
Activists and lawyers say the law stands as a barrier to justice for rape survivors and helps perpetrators evade punishment. Smriti Singh, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for South Asia, said the stigma, shame, intimidation and trauma associated with rape prevented many people from coming forward.
“This case has drawn attention to how grossly inadequate and ineffective the provision (for rape survivors) is at this time,” declared to the British medium.
“The one-year limitation is really outdated and harmful. It does not take into account the stigma that survivors face when they report cases of sexual and gender-based violence”he added.
It’s not just the statute of limitations that needs to change, according to activists. The definition of rape in the Nepalese penal code only recognizes a crime committed by a man against a woman, and not against persons of another gender. Non-consensual sexual acts are not included in the definition of rape, and marital rape receives a lesser punishment.
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