JUSTICE SYSTEM IN NEPAL
Legal system: English common law and Hindu legal concepts. New criminal and civil codes came into effect in August 2018. According to the constitution, the courts comprise three tiers: the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts. In addition, courts or tribunals may be constituted for the purpose of hearing special types of cases. Nepal is a member of the International Criminal Court. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020; [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
. Nepal does not have separate criminal and civil courts. There is no jury system. Judges decide all cases and jurisdiction over a wide range of issues. The constitution guarantees rights to counsel and public trial as well as protection from double indemnity and retroactive application of laws. The Public Security Act passed in the 1980s allows suspects to be detained for up to three months without charges or a trial. Special tribunals hear cases involving terrorism or treason under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance.
The judiciary is widely regarded as becoming more autonomous, but it suffers from large case backlogs, insufficient finances and personnel, political intervention, poor demarcation of jurisdiction between courts, and biases based on caste and economic status. Thus, many Nepalese do not view the official court system as a viable option for legal matters. A survey conducted in 2000 revealed that the majority of legal-type issues were handled not by government officials but by local actors, such as village chiefs. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]
A typical Kathmandu lawyer works in a grubby second floor office and makes a modest living working on land disputes, commercial cases and routine civil matters. Each district has civil and criminal courts, as well as a court of appeals. There are 14 zone courts and five regional courts to which further appeals can be made. The Supreme Court is in Kathmandu. It has the power to issue writs of habeas corpus and decide on the constitutionality of laws. The supreme court is highest court and the court of last resort. When the monarchy existed (until 2006) the king could grant pardons and commute, suspend, or remit sentences of any court. There are separate military courts that deal only with military personnel. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Nepal’s legal system is outlined in the 2015 constitution and comprises of constitutional laws, the legal code, Supreme Court precedents and legislation. The constitution guarantees equality of all citizens regardless of ethnic group, caste and sexual preferences and provides for basic rights and liberties. The legal code, or Muluki Ain, enacted in 1854 and revised in 1963, combines Hindu laws and sanctions, British and Indian codes, and traditional rules of behavior among the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley. Issues not addressed in this code are dealt with according to customs of local communities, often based on ethnic group or caste traditions.
Village-Level and Caste Justice in Nepal
Village life have traditionally been led by a headmen or council of elders and managed by formal and informal village councils. The government has empowered headmen to collect taxes and meet out justice. The national government of Nepal has traditionally had little involvement in local affairs other than collecting taxes (presumably in return for security). In term of law enforcement and justice, the national government generally does not provide police or legal services on the local level. Communities often have their own ways of settling disputes and meeting out justice, There is national criminal and civil code but it is either ignored or people don’t even know it exists.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “There are a number of caste and secular hierarchies in Nepal that have a functional meaning in the context of local settings. However, for more than two hundred years high-caste Hindu Nepali-speaking groups have dominated in many sociocultural and institutional settings because of their control of the country's political economy. This cultural dominance was consolidated in the Legal Codes of 1859, in which all groups were broadly cataloged and ranked roughly according to caste principles with, of course, Brahman Chhetri at the top. However, in 1964 the king ended the government's legislation of social practices based on caste. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Until 1963 Nepal's Mulki Ain (national code) explicitly stated which activities were proper for each caste group and prescribed penalties for infractions of the law. Since the code's revision in 1963, the Mulki Ain treats all citizens equally under the law. Those conflicts that cannot be settled through informal means at the village level are referred to the legal and judicial system of Nepal. |~|
“At the village level there are no formal mechanisms of social control, although many groups have lineage or local-descent groups of elders that decide the meaning of inappropriate behavior. Yet, in the event of crime or legal disputes, these groups do not have real power other than to institute forms of ostracism or contact district courts or police.” |~|
It is no surprise that there is a lack of justice in rural areas. In an article on sex trafficking, AFP reported: A high proportion of Tharu — an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai — has traditionally suffered high levels of poverty and discrimination. Maoist bomb attacks shut down all but two of its 114 police posts during the 10-year civil war between the leftist insurgents and state security forces that ended in 2006. Most have now been rebuilt, and police officers have slowly returned to the district over the past five years. But they face huge challenges from criminal gangs that use Nepal's porous border with India to evade detection from authorities on both sides, leaving little time to tackle the crimes that affect local women and children. Official corruption is also a major problem. A recent report from Human Rights Watch said police in Nepal “routinely refuse to accept complaints from relatives of victims” and bow to pressure from local political groups to drop investigations. [Source: AFP March 23, 2011]
Judicial Branch in Nepal
The Judicial branch’s highest court is the Supreme Court. It consists of the chief justice and up to 20 judges. The subordinate courts are 16 High Court and 75 district courts The Supreme Court chief justice is appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, a 5-member, high-level advisory body headed by the prime minister. Other judges are appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Judicial Council, a 5-member advisory body headed by the chief justice. The chief justice serves a six-year term; judges serve until age 65. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
Nepal's judiciary is legally separated from the executive and legislative branches and over the years has demonstrated it independence from political pressures. There is some concerns that will not always be the case due to the influence of the prime minister and president in the selection of the Chief Justice. All lower court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]
The 2015 constitution is the fundamental law of the land and establishes a three-tier court system consisting of 75 district courts, 16 appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. Village and municipal bodies may exercise quasi-judicial functions for minor offenses. All courts have original jurisdiction, but district courts have original jurisdiction over most judicial matters. The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction and jurisdiction over all courts, except military courts, and Supreme Court orders, decisions, and interpretations are binding on all, including the king. The Supreme Court has a chief justice appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council and 14 judges appointed under the recommendation of the Judicial Council, which also appoints appellate and district court judges. The House of Representatives can impeach Supreme Court justices. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]
The Supreme Court is the highest court. All other courts and institutions exercising judicial powers, except the military courts, are under its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has the authority to inspect, supervise, and give directives to all subordinate courts and all other institutions that exercise judicial powers. The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction and consists of a chief justice and fourteen other judges. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
The Supreme Court consists of the chief justice and up to 20 judges. The subordinate courts are 16 High Court and 75 district courts The Supreme Court chief justice is appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, a 5-member, high-level advisory body headed by the prime minister. Other judges are appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Judicial Council, a 5-member advisory body headed by the chief justice. The chief justice serves a six-year term; judges serve until age 65. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
Supreme Court justices can be impeached in the House of Representatives for reasons of incapacity, misbehavior, or malafide acts while in office. The Judicial Council, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, makes recommendations and advises on appointments, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges and other matters relating to judicial administration. An Abuse of Authority Investigating Commission is empowered to investigate the misuse of authority or corruption by public officials. Members of the commission have no specific party affiliation and are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.*
All appointments, promotions, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges of the appellate and district courts are under the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council. An independent Judicial Service Commission, appointed by the king, and with the chief justice of the Supreme Court serving as ex-officio chairman, appoints, transfers, promotes, and provides departmental punishment of the gazetted officers of the civil service.*
The Supreme Court is the supreme judicial authority of the nation. All orders and decisions made by the court are binding. Any interpretation of a law or any legal principle laid down by the court is binding on all, including the king, when there was one. .As a guarantor of personal liberty and fundamental rights conferred by the constitution, the Supreme Court has the authority to declare a law as void ab initio if it finds that the impugned law contravenes the provisions of the constitution. The Supreme Court also has the power to issue appropriate orders and writs, including habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto.*
Judiciary in Nepal Under the Monarchy
An independent judiciary, unencumbered by the executive branch of the government and palace interference, was a stated goal of all political parties. Of the many changes which have taken place since the fall of the Ranas in 1951, among the most striking have been the growing autonomy of the courts and the gradual liberalization of many basic judicial principles. Despite major improvements, however, the judicial system has suffered from serious impediments in providing speedy, expeditious, and equal justice. The independence and integrity of the judiciary were repeatedly questioned in the press; intervention of political figures and government officials in the judicial process was a frequent occurrence; and caste and economic status were important determinants of the availability of justice. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
The court system formerly was one of many instruments used by the prime minister to maintain the authoritarian rule of the Rana family, and the concepts of law it applied were arbitrary, punitive, and oppressive. After an initial attempt to keep the judiciary subordinate when the monarchy was restored, it was allowed to become a relatively independent branch of government. Reforms in the legal system rendered both substantive and procedural law progressively more systematic.*
Never clearly demarcated, the jurisdiction of the courts became further complicated with the introduction of the panchayat system, which at the local level exercised some quasijudicial functions. Therefore, the fundamental role of the judiciary and its position within the government became a subject of national focus during the prodemocracy movement.*
The 1990 constitution declared the independence of the judiciary and the supreme court demonstrated a high degree independence, declaring provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1991 and parts of the Labor Act of 1992 unconstitutional. In 1995, acting on the request of a former primer minister, the Supreme court ruled that the dissolution of the parliament at that time was unconstitutional. Although power of the judiciary was considerable, the king was still at the top of the government system. The king issued decree forbidding news media from criticizing the monarchy. After a State of Emergency was formally lifted in April 2005 during the civil war withe Maoist, human rights organizations accused the government of failure to restore basic freedoms. be restored. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance (TADO) allowed up to one-year detention. There are many reports of torture, execution and disappearances attributed to both the official government as well as the Maoists rebels. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Legal Code of Nepal
The judicial system initiated under the Ranas, despite some limited reforms, remained traditional in character in the early 1990s. The Muluki Ain of 1854, the legal code introduced by the first Rana prime minister, Jang Bahadur Rana, combined ancient Hindu sanctions and customary law and common laws modeled on the British and Indian codes with the rules of behavior that had evolved over the centuries among the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley (see The Kot Massacre Under History). [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
The Muluki Ain was amended several times and was completely revised in 1963. Over the years, the Muluki Ain blended royal edicts, proclamations, and piecemeal legislation. The entire corpus of law was consolidated in a compilation called the Ain Sangraha. Customs were applied in the absence of legislative provisions or judicial procedures.*
The revised code sought to promote social harmony and declared all persons theoretically equal in the eyes of the law, thus ending legal discrimination based on caste, creed, and sex. The code granted the right to divorce, permitted intercaste marriages, and abolished the laws sanctioning untouchability. These provisions were drafted at the behest of the king. A uniform family law was applicable to all religious communities and was contained in the Muluki Ain. When the code was silent, however, the custom of the particular community applied. The code remained the existing substantive law in 1991.*
Court System in Nepal
Each district has a court of first instance which takes both criminal and cases, as well as a court of appeals and 14 zonal courts. There are five regional courts — in Kathmandu, Dhankuta, Pokhara, Surkhet, and Dipayal — to which further appeals may be made. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
The official text of the Muluki Ain was published in Nepali; few statutes were available in English. Statutes were cited by the years of enactment. The Nepal Raj Patra, the government gazette, issued at irregular intervals, published all new legislation. Official texts of Supreme Court decisions were published monthly in the Nepal Kanoon Patriki (Nepalese Law Journal), which also contained the official texts of new legislation and articles on legal topics. The Nepal Act Series, published by the Law Book Management Board in Kathmandu, by arrangement with government ministries, was a compilation of all Nepalese laws and statutes. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Under the vague instrument of the Muluki Ain prior to its 1963 revision, magistrates and justices had wide latitude in deciding cases according to their own interpretations. There was a motive for caution, however, in the provision that if a higher court reversed the decision of a lower court, the magistrate of the lower court was liable to a fine, corporal punishment, or even execution. Court procedures varied greatly. The accuser was placed in jail along with the accused. Writs of habeas corpus were not issued. Prisoners often waited many months before trial. The onus of proof of innocence rested on the accused, who was tried without a jury.*
Under the rules, no one could be convicted of a criminal charge without a confession, but confessions were commonly extracted by torture. The Rana courts had both executive and judicial powers, and the prime minister was the supreme judicial authority whose decision on a given case was final.*
Reforms the Nepalese Court System
Reforms enacted under the constitution of 1948 and in the first years following the 1951 overthrow of Rana rule modernized many features of the feudal-based legal system. The prime minister was divested of judicial powers and no longer functioned as the highest court of appeal. The Supreme Court Act of 1952 established the Supreme Court as the highest judicial body, with powers and structure corresponding generally to those of the Supreme Court of India. Special traveling courts were organized and were sent into the districts to provide citizens easier access to the legal system. These courts were empowered to audit public accounts, hear complaints of all kinds, make arrests, hold trials, and impose sentences. An important step toward a unified judicial system came in 1956 with the establishment, mostly in the Terai, of a series of district courts that heard civil and criminal cases. Appeals courts were set up in Kathmandu. The 1962 Panchayat Constitution stipulated that the king was solely responsible for appointing judges and providing judicial overview. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Under the Panchayat Constitution, the court system was headed by the Supreme Court, composed of a chief justice, nine judges, and a small secretarial staff. Below the Supreme Court were fourteen zonal courts, which, in turn, oversaw seventy-five district courts throughout the country. All the lower courts had both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Although the judiciary technically was independent, in practice the courts never were assertive in challenging the king or his ministers.*
The constitution promulgated in 1990 reorganized the judiciary, reduced the king's judicial prerogatives, and made the system more responsive to elected officials. Under the new system, the king appointed the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the other judges (no more than fourteen) of that court on the recommendation of the Judicial Council. Below the Supreme Court, the constitution established fifty-four appellate courts and numerous district courts. The judges of the appellate and district courts also were appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council, established in the wake of the prodemocracy movement and incorporated into the constitution, monitored the court system's performance and advised the king and his elected government on judicial matters and appointments. Council membership consisted of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the minister of justice, the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court, and a distinguished judicial scholar. All lower court decisions, including acquittals, were subject to appeal. The Supreme Court was the court of last resort, but the king retained the right to grant pardons and suspend, commute, or remit any sentence levied by any court.*
The new judicial system still was in its infancy as of 1991. Some observers noted that judicial appointments had remained a source of patronage by which the elected government rewarded its supporters. Others feared that Nepal lacked the legal resources to staff an expanding and modern judicial system. The growing backlog of legal cases, many of them initiated during the 1990 prodemocracy upheaval, also threatened to overwhelm the system. Despite these drawbacks, however, most observers of the legal system felt the changes were forward-looking and progressive.*
Justice Under the Maoist Rebel
During the Nepal civil war from 1996 to 2006, the Maoist rebels set up their own governments in some localities. As of 2002, the Maoist rebels had set up “people’s governments” in 22 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In areas they controlled, the rebels ran schools and set up courts. They collected taxes and appointed their own self-declared chiefs.
The Maoist rebels also built bridges and improved mountain trails, which was often more than the government did. The rebels led efforts to ban alcohol and hashish use so that husbands’s didn’t squander their family’s money getting drunk and high. The Maoist rebels punished agents who enticed young girls to India to work as prostitutes after they were promised good jobs.
"People's Courts" dispensed summary justice and paraded drunks through the streets, which pleased many women frustrated by drunken husbands and domestic violence. Armed militias guarded boundaries and said that "clearance" from the central command was necessary before entering. Some people were happy with the courts because decisions were made without bribes and wife beaters and rapists who would been able to escape justice in the ordinary government court system were brought to justice.
Women-Based Paralegal Committees in Nepal
In 2011, AFP reported: “In a dusty courtyard in southeastern Nepal, around a dozen women in matching blue saris sit cross-legged and discuss their neighbours. “I heard that a landowner beat an 11-year-old boy just because he suspected the child of letting his animals escape from their field,” says one. “In my village, there is a Muslim man who wants to take a second wife,” says another, while a third tells the story of a 13-year-old girl whose father is rumoured to be planning to sell her to a man from neighbouring India. [Source: AFP March 23, 2011]
“To the outsider, these stories might sound like mere village gossip. In fact, they are part of a groundbreaking effort to deliver justice in Nepal, where law enforcement is weak at best, and non-existent at worst. Since 1999, women in many parts of the impoverished Himalayan nation have been meeting every month to fight back against the discrimination and abuses they and other marginalised groups have been subjected to for centuries.
“Known as paralegal committees, they were first set up in 1999 as part of an anti-trafficking programme run by the UN children's agency, UNICEF. Since then they have expanded their remit to include many other forms of abuse, with a focus on issues the authorities have tended to turn a blind eye to, such as child marriage and domestic violence.
“There are now 644 paralegal committees working in the 23 districts of Nepal where UNICEF is active, and the UN agency has plans to expand the scheme to cover all 75 districts by 2013. The members are given basic legal training covering a wide spectrum of issues, from trafficking and sexual harassment to property laws and the rights of divorced women. Their role is three-fold — prevention, detection and victim support — and a 2008 UNICEF study found they made a “significant contribution” to ensuring victims of violence and other crimes seek justice.
“UNICEF child protection specialist Patrizia Benvenuti said the committees played a vital role, particularly in areas where the state has little or no presence. “We hope that over time the links between formal and informal mechanisms will increase, but in the meantime we are investing in community-based protection structures because they are necessary,” she told AFP. “They are also important in promoting the role of women and children in society. “When you talk to authorities, they say that abuses of women are now starting to be reported, although that is only the tip of the iceberg. But cases of child abuse rarely even come up, so much still needs to be done.”The district of Saptari in Nepal's southeastern plains, on the border with India, has more problems than most.
“The blue-uniformed women of the Bakduwa paralegal committee in Saptari say they are forcing the authorities to take the problems of their community seriously.” In 2010 “the Bakduwa committee managed to resolve 41 cases, most of them involving either domestic violence or child abuse. They also forced a prosecution in a gang rape case that police had been refusing to investigate, probably because of pressure from influential members of the community.
“Committee members are trained to report any case in which laws have been broken to the police, and will often put pressure on officers to investigate crimes against women and children that might otherwise be ignored. “I think the paralegals succeed because women have themselves had much to deal with in our communities, and that helps them to understand the problems faced by others,” said the committee's 38-year-old chairwoman Kusam Acharya. “This is a society in which men are heard. A woman's voice is not recognised. But here, over time, we have been able to achieve recognition.”
Magar Local Governance and Justice
Magar are the third largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 7.1 percent of the population. They are a Hindu people who live in the middle Himalayas and Terai and west-central and southern Nepal.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Kihun Thum is divided into eight jurisdictions, each with its own hereditary headman (mukhiya ). Of the eight headmen, three are Brahmans, and five are Magars, one of whom is from Banyan Hill. In return for keeping the peace, acting as liaison officers between the government and the local people, and collecting taxes on unirrigated farmland, the eight headmen each receive 5 percent of what they collect. However, since taxes are extremely low, this form of income is not the major reward of the office. The real reward lies in the days of forced labor the headmen can claim from each household in their respective jurisdictions. Forced labor was legally abolished following the overturn of the extremely repressive Rana regime in 1951. Whether or not the abolition is observed depends, however, on the stature of the district's headman. In the 1960s, people continued to work as before for the exceptionally strong Banyan Hill headman Because they recognized him as an outstanding community benefactor. He had studied law and knew how to write legal documents. Individuals thus could come to him for help with their legal problems. He was also a source for loans of cash or grain, keeping careful records and charging no more interest than community custom allowed. He was something of a water engineer and had laid out a series of channels to make water for drinking and irrigation more accessible. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“The multifarious services expected of Kihun Thum's eight headmen contrast with what is expected of its two additional revenue collectors (jimwal ). Both are well-educated Brahmans whose sole responsibility and source of a Comparatively high income is to collect the taxes on irrigated rice-producing terraces. |~|
“During the course of his career as headman — an office that a member of his family has held for at least three generations — the Banyan Hill headman's major political opponents are neighborhood Brahmans. In the Religious sphere he challenges them by hiring a learned Brahman as his religious retainer. Under his guidance the headman performs two elaborate pujas every day, morning and evening. He also follows a strict dietary regime and does not accept food from a Brahman known to drink liquor. In this and other ways he is more Brahman than many Brahmans. |~|
Newari Political Organization
The Newars are an ethnic group associated with the Kathmandu Valley. Regarded by some as the earliest inhabitants of the valley, they are both Buddhists and Hindus. They speak a Tibetan language with many Sanskit and Nepali loan words. The word “Nepal” is believed by some to have been derived from word “Newar,” or possibly the other way around. The Newar are the sixth largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 5 percent of the population of Nepal.
The Newars have their own caste system. with 64 clearly defined occupational castes with priests and confectioners near the top and sweepers and drum makers near the bottom. The relationships between castes is very complex and incorporates Buddhist Newars. Social organizations called Guthis play a major role in Newari society. They can be formed around everything from maintaining a temple to providing charity for needy people or tending a communal agricultural field. They serve an area for people to socialize and make business connections and provide the service the group was set up to provide. Sometimes entire extended families belong to a guthni and it is not unusual for an individual to belong to several guthis. A guthis is generally lead by its most senior member. Some act like village councils and settle dispute or punish members that break the rules.
Hiroshi Ishii wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Intercaste relationships are hierarchical and expressed in commensality, marriage, and other behavior as well as in the division of labor... A guthi often owns land and other property, and holds feasts, which are hosted in rotation by the members. Some priestly and artisan castes had or have guthis to cover one large area and control members' occupations, marriage, and conflicts. In many other castes, funeral associations control the caste members. They may extend beyond the settlement boundary, depending upon the demographic condition of the caste concerned. Castes tend to live in different quarters or wards (twa ), which among some castes are given specific names. A quarter usually houses plural lineages, which may form a corporate ritual unit. There are many guthis of restricted membership to carry out rituals among higher castes. Musical groups and voluntary dance or drama groups are widely found both as intra-and intercaste organizations. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Newars are known for having a lot of rules and often requiring strict adherence to them. “A sense of conformity is pervasive. Violation of norms sometimes ends in ostracism. Each social group is led by elders who assume their seats according to seniority based on generation and age; but other members who have prestige and ability may emerge as practical leaders.
Sherpa Political Organization and Justice
Sherpas are a Tibetan Buddhist people that are essentially Tibetans who have lived in Nepal long enough to develop some of their own unique traits and characteristics. They are quite different from Hindu Nepalese. The Sherpas of the Khumbu valley near Mt. Everest are famous mountaineers and guides.
Sherpa society is divided into clans descended form an original founding family. Some clans have communal fields and communal property such as a mill. "Old Sherpas," members of the 18 traditional clans, have the highest status. There is some stratification based on wealth and people who can trace their ancestry to first settlers are of higher status but there are no real class distinctions and nothing that approaches a caste system found elsewhere in Nepal. Villages have headmen and social control is exerted mainly through religion.
Robert A. Paul wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Sherpas have never been organized into any coherent political unit as such. Throughout their history in Nepal, local headmen have established themselves as authorities on the basis of wealth, personality, religious status, and alliance with non-Sherpa centers of power including the Nepali state. More recently, the Sherpa region has been incorporated within the administrative system of the contemporary Nepali government. [Source: Robert A. Paul, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Religious authority and values, the power of local headmen, tradition, and public opinion constrain action, but there are few indigenous mechanisms for enforcing social control or adjudicating complaints. Mediation or arbitration by neighbors, relatives, headmen, or lamas settles most disputes. Others can now be taken to Nepali law courts, though this is infrequently done. Nonviolent Buddhist values have helped keep Sherpa society almost entirely free of war and homicide. High mobility makes flight or avoidance a viable solution to conflict.”
Children in Prison with Their Imprisoned Mothers in Nepal
In 2013, AFP reported: “Inside a crumbling brick-walled compound in the heart of Kathmandu, children chatter and play hopscotch in the dust while their mothers peel vegetables and wash clothes in the pale winter sunshine. It could be a scene from any poor estate in the Nepalese capital, except that these children are locked behind razor wire, innocent victims of a prison system that often incarcerates the infant sons and daughters of women who are jailed. [Source: AFP, March 13, 2013]
“There are 300 inmates in the overcrowded, dilapidated Kathmandu Women's Prison, and 15 children who are among dozens across Nepal serving time because, with their sole carer in jail, they have nowhere else to go. In a holding area in the penitentiary, Nepal's only women's prison, inmates sit with their children on their laps, preparing to say goodbye before handing them over to Magar. Among them is Sapana Bhandari, 22, who says she was jailed for 10 years for her "involvement in the sex trade" and doesn't want her four-year-old son to grow up in prison.
“About 80 children are locked up with their mothers in 74 prisons across the country, with majority of them toddlers, according to UNICEF. Nepal allows women prisoners to keep the child in jail and the jail authorities are required by law to pay for their education in care. But officials at the Women's Prison acknowledged that the provisions have not been fully implemented due to lack of government funds.”
Help for Children with Imprisoned Mothers in Nepal
According to AFP: “But there is hope, in the shape of Indira Rana Magar, who over 12 years has offered sanctuary, education and a better life to more than 500 youngsters who have been dealt the worst possible start in Nepal's filthy, run-down jails. “If I send him to the shelter, he will not only have a proper education but will also lead a normal childhood," Bhandari tells AFP. Letting her child go is a wrench, but Bhandari knows 41-year-old Magar will offer the young boy more than she ever could. Growing up behind the high walls of Kathmandu Women's Prison is tough. There is no school and children are crammed into cells of up to 20 women where daily existence is a constant battle for space. [Source: AFP, March 13, 2013]
“Magar set up Prisoners Assistance Nepal” in 2000 “and runs three homes, including a three-storey red-brick building on the edge of Kathmandu which houses more than 60 children aged from three to 15 whose parents are in jail. A workforce of carers and teachers give the youngsters routine, make sure they are fed and clothed, and teach them the discipline and self-respect to ensure that, in most cases, they do not return to life behind bars.
“Usha Turaha, 26, a single mother jailed for smuggling heroin from India, also hands over her five-year-old daughter to Magar, thrusting chocolate, a box of noodles and a biscuit into the girl's arms. “I trust (Magar) because jail is not good for a child. There's no school and she will learn how to read and write," Turaha says before giving her daughter one last hug.
“Magar brings the children to the shelter, and is surrounded as she opens the gate by a crowd of youngsters who call her "aama" — "mother" in Nepali. "We want to give them a normal childhood and a family environment. We also train them on life skills so that they don't have to be idle when they leave," she says, gesturing to a plot of land where the children learn to grow vegetables.
Magar, herself a single mother, is no stranger to the deprivation experienced by many of her young charges, having grown up in a poor farming family in eastern Nepal and having been forced to pay for her own schooling by working as a maid. She found herself making rounds of prisons in the 1990s as a volunteer helping political prisoners and saw first-hand the plight of children languishing in cells. The work of charities rescuing children from Nepal's prisons was given welcome publicity when Pushpa Basnet, 28, who runs a similar center in Kathmandu, won 2012's CNN Hero of the Year prize as a result of a worldwide online poll.
“But Magar's charity gets no cash from the Maoist government of Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries scarred by 10 years of civil war. Her 10-million-rupee ($117,647) shelter has been built up from donations and international funding. “I would very much like the government to take over the infrastructure. But going by its past record, that seems unlikely," she said. “So, I hope one of our graduates, or even a group of them, take charge and run the shelter in the future."
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022