Re "one hour for murder - 20 years for an abortion" in Nepal
- Dear friends of GSN,
Warning - a most disturbing report via the Bol! List - any comment, suggestions, ideas welcomed.
With thanks etc., Lynette.
>Date: Sat, 02 Jan 1999 04:03:55 +1100Dear Rajib
>From: Lynette Dumble <<l.dumble@...>
>Subject: Questions, questions ... re "one hour for murder - 20 years for an abortion"
Your message, "One hour for murder - 20 years for an abortion", reminds me somewhat of a poster I used to read at the entrance to the underground rail when I worked at the University of Illinois in Chicago about 10 years back - "Men get 6 months for rape, women get life" - only this case, and probably countless others in Nepal, is a trillion times more outrageous!!
What sort of justice is prevailing in Nepal that a 14 year old child can be jailed for 20 years for terminating a rape-related pregnancy? What sort of penal system imprisons a child for 20 years for any crime? What sort of police authority lets a child rapist off scot free?
Has anyone approached Amnesty International, the UNHRC, Human Rights Watch, and/or given some thought to an international campaign to free Min Min Lama? [I'd be all for a separate campaign to jail her rapist instead!!].
In sisterhood, and looking forward to some answers, Lynette.
Date: Fri, 01 Jan 1999 19:31:05 +0530
Subject: Bol!: In Nepal, one hour for murder - 20 years for an abortion
Thought this may be useful to the list.
One hour for murder - 20 years for an abortion
by Uma Ram Nath
LONDON, THIRD WORLD : EEC (TWEEC) --
Min Min Lama, aged 14, was raped by her sister-in-law's
brother. When Min Min later had an abortion, the family reported the
event. Min Min was sentenced to 20 years jailbecause having an abortion
in Nepal is illegal. The rapist was never convicted. Nepal is one of a
handful of countries in the world which imprisons women for having an
However, there are more than 50 countries (see list below)*
which have laws which reflect varying degrees of injustice like that in
Nepal. Campaigners in Nepal are lobbying for changes in the law on
abortion but the draft bill has been linked, through the legislative
process, to a bill promoting property rights for women and this has made
it even more difficult to put the abortion law reform through
The primitive injustice of the Nepalese situation was one of the issues
raised by the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) at the recent
140-country meeting of the International Planned Parenthood Federation
(IPPF) in Prague. They believe that bringing the issue to international
attention will move the Nepalese government speedily to reform the law.
Poland is another country, whose recent criminalisation of the abortion
law (for both medical practitioner and the woman), and the ending of
state provided family planning services under the national health
service, was discussed at the IPPF world assembly. Polish family
planning organisations are using UN charter obligations, and looking at
EU accession requirements, to pressure the government to restore women's
rights and subsidised family planning. Since these were restricted there
has been a significant rise in teenage pregnancies and dangerous
backstreet abortions. The issue is not just one of reproductive rights,
but of fundamental human rights, says the FPAN, which has made a video
about the issue in Nepal with the help of South Asia Regional Office of
Nepalese women, who are charged with abortion, can be sentenced up to 20
years in jail, while men who commit murder, on average serve only 10
years. If a woman kills the man who raped her, within one hour of the
assault, she receives legal immunity. But she goes to jail if she
terminates a pregnancy resulting from the same attack. Campaigners do
not have access to the full official figures but say that hundreds of
Nepalese women have served jail sentences for having had an abortion.
FPAN adds that in Nepalese law, abortion is classed as infanticide
and, as such, falls under the category of homicide). Two thirds of women
inmates are in prison because they have had an abortion, FPAN says.
Abortion is prohibited under any circumstances whatsoever, including on
grounds of rape and incest and endangerment of the life of the other.
Globally, the termination of pregnancy remains a choice for many women
in rich and poor societies. Abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967,
and it is estimated that, in the late 90s, one in four women in the UK
will have an abortion.
In India abortion was made legal in 1971. In India the underlying
problem is of female feticide - couples preferring to have a male child.
The Nepalese anti-abortion law affects the most vulnerable women and
they are generally illiterate and poor, says Indira Rana, a volunteer
working with the Prison Assistance Mission (PAM). And, when they finally
get out of jail, they are ostracised by the family and the community.
Unable to earn a living, many are forced into prostitution, and so go on
to commit another crime under Nepalese law. Apart from the women in
jail, thousands of more Nepalese women are at risk and often die because
they have to resort to extremely dangerous back-street methods. Nepal
not only has the highest snow peaks in the world, it is in the
unenviable position of having one of the highest rates of maternal
The worldwide proportion of deaths caused by unsafe abortions stands at
13%. In Nepal this has been estimated to be up to 50%. Part of the
reason for this frighteningly high figure is that family planning
services in Nepal, with people often living in remote and roadless
areas, are not widespread, says Director General of FPAN, Dr
Yagya Bahadur Karki. Ironically there are safe, hygienic abortion
services, particularly in the capital, Kathmandu, but they are illegal.
They are not widely-known, especially for folk from rural areas.
Abortions are also extremely expensive in one of the poorest countries
in the world -- from US$60 to US$100 for married women, and four times
that sum for unmarried women. The annual per capita income in Nepal is
US$200. Most clandestine abortion procedures are dangerous, as village
women often have to rely on the unsafe methods of untrained, traditional
These have long-term impact on the health and fertility of women.
Gynaecologist Dr Sanu Dali says she sees patients, for example, who have
inserted a bag containing ghee (clarified butter), turmeric and cow dung
into the uterus. A 35-month study in a government maternity hospital,
showed that of the 9,141 gynaecological cases admitted, nearly 50% were
due to complications from abortions. Studies conducted in three district
level hospitals across the country arrived at a similar percentage.
Legalising abortion would mean giving women the right to choose the
number of children they wish to have, says Dr Karki. 'We do not promote
abortion as a method of family planning. But right now we want those who
choose to an abortion - to the extent possible - to have a safe
abortion'. In 1996, the President of FPAN, Mr Sunil Kumar Bhandari,
registered a Private Bill in the parliament advocating the reform of
abortion legislation, permitting it under certain conditions, and
ensuring greater access to safe abortion services.
Unfortunately the Bill has languished in Parliament for more than two
years. The draft bill proposes that abortions can be carried out by
legally-registered physicians in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and
thereafter in certain situations, such as rape, incest, life-threatening
situations and where the foetus is diagnosed as being severely
There is a great amount of public support for the proposed Bill, and
according to a recent private poll conducted by FPAN), 74% of
parliamentarians are in favour of legalising abortion. However,
there are obstacles. Some conservative Hindu religious groups, in a
country where the King is honoured as a divine being, oppose the Bill.
Although they are a small minority, their influence is greater than
Women's campaigners say that many men see the bill as a threat - if
women are treated equally it will be a big challenge to them. Despite
the FPAN private poll result among MPs, 95 % of parliamentarians are
male. Activists say opponents have also projected the law reform as a
'Dollar Bill', a foreign import that will destroy Nepalese culture.
There are other misconceptions being put about. One is that the number
of abortions will increase. In fact the abortion rate in Nepal is
already among the highest in South Asia. In contrast, in India, where
abortion has been legal since 1971, the estimated abortion rate is 25%
lower. Experience around the world has shown that rates will only fall
when family planning services become widespread and modern methods are
used effectively. Others believe that offering safe abortions through
government health facilities will be prohibitively expensive. They do
not take into account the enormous savings through a reduction in
treating the aftermath of unsafe abortions.
Inequalities in health and reproductive rights persist around the
world, not only in Nepal. A report from the Panos Institute in London,
states that 25% of the world's population lives in the countries listed
below with the most restrictive abortion laws generally banning
abortion entirely, or criminalising it unless it is to save the life of
the woman. Campaigners in Nepal maintain that a properly performed
abortion is a woman's safety net, and one of the most important
reproductive rights of all. ends
Dr. Lynette J. Dumble,
Co-ordinator, Global Sisterhood Network
Senior Research Fellow,
History and Philosophy of Science,
University of Melbourne,
Parkville, Vic., 3052, AUSTRALIA.
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~globalsn/ </color>[under construction]