A young woman’s account on TikTok of being drugged, raped and then blackmailed by a beauty pageant organiser when she was 16 years old has provoked 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, the former model and child actor broke down in tears as she talked about Nepal’s statute of limitations that dictates survivors must report cases of rape within one year of the offence being committed.
Days after the videos were posted on the social media site on 18 May, hundreds of protesters took to the streets calling for change to the country’s rape laws, and on 24 May six lawyers filed a petition at the supreme court demanding the repeal of the statute.
As a result of public pressure, a man has been arrested in connection with the case but under a section of the law related to human trafficking.
Dechen Lama, a human rights lawyer who also works for the Forum for Women, Law and Development, a Nepali rights organisation, said: “The law is not comprehensive …… It leads to so much unfairness and injustice. It has to be changed. There are so many loopholes in the rape law, most particularly the statute of limitation and the definition of rape.”
Nepal’s 2017 penal code extended the statute of limitations on reporting rape allegations from 35 days to a year. A report by the international women’s rights organisation Equality Now found that in comparison with five other south Asian countries, Nepal has the shortest statute of limitations on sexual violence cases.
Activists and lawyers say the law stands as a barrier to justice for rape survivors and that it helps perpetrators to evade punishment. Smriti Singh, Amnesty International’s south Asia deputy regional director, said the stigma, shame, intimidation and trauma associated with rape stopped many people from coming forward.
“This case has brought attention to how grossly inadequate and ineffective the provision [for rape survivors] is at this point,” she said.
“The one-year limitation is really outdated and harmful. It does not factor in the stigma that survivors face when reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence.”
It is not just the statute of limitations that needs to change, according to campaigners. The definition of rape in Nepal’s penal code only recognises a crime committed by a male against a female, and not against people of other genders. Nonconsensual sexual acts are not included within the definition of rape, and marital rape receives a lesser punishment.
“This can be a watershed moment for Nepal,” said Singh. “From a human rights perspective, this incident has triggered a conversation around how inadequate provisions are.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for the authorities to take a moment and go back and see whether rape laws are in line with international human rights standards, and if not, to bring them in line.”