NEPALESE WOMEN SUFFER FROM ILL HEALTH, POVERTY, LEGAL DISCRIMINATION WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

15 June 1999
WOM/1136

NEPALESE WOMEN SUFFER FROM ILL HEALTH, POVERTY, LEGAL DISCRIMINATION WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

15 June 1999

Press ReleaseWOM/1136

NEPALESE WOMEN SUFFER FROM ILL HEALTH, POVERTY, LEGAL DISCRIMINATION WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

19990615 Secretary of Ministry of Law and Justice Introduces Report; Experts Address Issues of Discriminatory Laws, Trafficking in Women and Girls

On the eve of the twenty-first century, Nepalese women were suppressed and exploited, and suffered from ill health, poverty and a discriminatory legal system, said Nepal's Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Justice this morning, as he presented his country's initial report on efforts to comply with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Speaking to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- the 23-member treaty monitoring body -- Terth Man Shakya said Nepal had attempted to improve the situation of women by making them an integral component of its plan for national development. Nepal's 1990 Constitution enunciated women's equality and contained a provision for special treatment for their socio-economic development, he added.

For legal and social reasons, however, women lacked access to income and economic resources, he continued. Women's literacy rate was only 30 per cent, compared to 66 per cent for men. Because of low educational levels and other social reasons, women were denied access to political and administrative decision-making. Further, poverty was a major obstacle. Fifty per cent of the population lived in absolute poverty. Legislative measures had little value unless translated into real measures. Therefore, poverty eradication had to be integrated with human rights objectives.

A number of experts this morning insisted that while Nepal faced formidable challenges regarding poverty and social awareness, it must begin by eliminating discriminatory legislation. Formal equality must precede informal equality, they stressed. The principles of Nepal's Constitution and its commitments under international treaties must be reflected in its laws. Government's unflinching adherence to equality would send a powerful message throughout society.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

Man experts said that complex legal and social mechanisms reinforced each other and conspired to deprive women of rights, which was the case with inheritance, for example. Patriarchal values dominated laws and seemed to control State mechanisms, one expert noted. Those attitudes and norms were the main obstacle to advancing women and putting into practice Nepal's human rights treaty obligations.

Experts noted the large number of ethnic groups in Nepal, the smaller of whom lived in remote, mountainous areas. That isolation had a strong bearing on the situation of women in those groups, one said. Women in the Dalit community, a significant proportion of Nepal's female population, faced triple discrimination; they were women, poor and of the lowest caste.

Dalit women had a literacy rate of 4 per cent and the highest rate of maternal mortality in Nepal, she continued. They were becoming more involved in prostitution, and many were in prison. Did the Government have any rehabilitation plans, policies or laws to address their plight? she asked. Also, were there any laws prohibiting discrimination based on caste?

Many experts commented on the widespread problem of trafficking in women and children. They noted the Government's recognition of the problem, and its plans to protect and rehabilitate women and girls. However, they asked for information on what real measures were being taken, whether plans had been implemented, and what happened to girls who were returned to their families.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of Nepal's compliance with the Convention.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial report of Nepal (document CEDAW/C/NPL/1), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/1125 of 4 June).

While the social status of Nepalese women varies between ethnic communities, the report finds that major barriers to women's rights and development remain. Foremost among them are social constraints, such as a conservative and male-dominated social public awareness and education. Bureaucratic constraints include inadequate monitoring systems for development programs and poor enforcement of laws ensuring women's rights. Given that women's participation is invaluable to development, several efforts are under way to mainstream women into the development process in Nepal. The Government realizes, however, that much remains to be done to bring about change in the lives of the women of Nepal.

Also according to the report, poverty, customary practices and traditional social values contribute to inequality and discrimination between women and men. Trafficking in human beings, slavery, serfdom, forced labour, prostitution, and rape in any form are all prohibited by law. However, girls and women, especially from poverty-stricken districts, are being trafficked to India, and rape, prostitution and violence continue to occur.

Nepal has a wide range of topographies that supports similarly broad cultural variations. For example, there are approximately 20 major ethnic groups speaking some 35 different languages. Nepal is predominantly an agricultural country, with some 81 per cent of the population depending on agriculture. According to the 1991 census, the country has an estimated population of 18.5 million, half of which is female.

The report provides historical context for the current status of Nepalese women. For the first half of the century, it states, the country was little known outside of South Asia, as the ruling conservative Rana family did everything possible to keep Nepal apart from the political transformations taking place around the globe. There was no written constitution ensuring basic rights and fundamental freedoms and the concepts of an independent judiciary, human rights and the rule of law did not exist. In 1951, a turning point in Nepal's political history, the King announced the establishment of democracy and liberated the country from the Rana regime, but decades of uncertain governance followed.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

Finally, the report continues, as a result of a popular movement launched in 1990, a new, democratic constitution was promulgated. Known as the 1990 Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, it established a multi-party parliamentary government similar to that of the United Kingdom, with the King as the head of State, the Prime Minister responsible to Parliament as the head of government, and an independent judiciary.

The concept of public education in Nepal has made significant advances over the last 40 years, the report states. In 1970, a National Education System Plan was formulated and during the International Women's Decade, with the help of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a project was introduced to ensure the equal access of girls and women to education. Since then, various incentives have been launched, such as cash prizes to schools with the highest female enrolment rates and scholarships.

Female literacy, 13.9 per cent in 1971, reached 25 per cent in 1991, compared to a national rate of 40 per cent, the report finds. Despite the improved rates, the female enrolment rate in schools remains very low -- 39 per cent at the primary level and 31 per cent at the secondary level. Governmental efforts to improve this situation and to increase the participation of women in education include special education programs, women's education programs, scholarships for girl students, and the employment of at least one female teacher in every primary school.

The general health status of Napalese women is poor, as is the health service delivery infrastructure, the report states. Most hospitals and physicians/surgeons are concentrated in urban areas. Pervasive poverty, a low level of health awareness and rugged terrain hampering access to health care services are other major obstacles to women's health. The life expectancy at birth for females was 48 years in 1981 (compared to 50 for males) and 53.4 years in 1991 (compared to 55.9 for males), making Nepal one of three countries in the world where female life expectancy is lower than that of males. This is largely due to a high maternal mortality rate -- 515 per 100,000 births in 1991.

On the subject of marriage, the report notes that the legal age for girls is 16 years with parental consent and 18 years for boys with parental consent; it is 18 and 21 years respectively without consent. The average marriage age for women is 17.8 years. An unmarried daughter must be at least 35 years old to claim a share of paternal property, while sons may do so at any age regardless of their marital status. A marriage may be dissolved with the consent of both parties, and a wife may divorce her husband if he: brings or keeps another wife; evicts the wife from their home or does not support her; deserts her for a period of at least three years; threatens her life or inflicts serious bodily injury to her; or becomes impotent.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

The report states that 40 per cent of Nepalese women have their first child between the ages of 15 and 19 years, and less than 10 per cent of births are attended by trained health personnel. Abortion is illegal except in cases where the mother's life is endangered. The first two HIV/AIDS-positive Nepali women were identified in 1989. To date, 97 HIV/AIDS-positive women have been identified, compared to 91 HIV/AIDS-positive men.

Overall, the report finds that women constitute 46 per cent of Nepal's total economically active population. Ninety per cent of these women are engaged in agriculture. The percentage of women in decision-making positions is very low, as is the number of women in the civil service. Women constituted five per cent of officer-level civil servants in 1991-1992.

Women's involvement in the industrial sector is marginal and largely confined to low-skill areas, the report states. Principal activities are spinning, weaving, knitting, carpet-making, and tea and food processing. Their main employers are the textile and weaving industries, where their jobs are confined mainly to unskilled and semi-skilled positions. In addition to employment in food processing industries, increasing numbers of women are being employed in manufacturing cigarettes, matches, and pharmaceuticals. The hotel industry follows a similar pattern, with female employment concentrated in housekeeping and ancillary jobs.

The report points out that, among the 205 members of the lower house of Parliament, seven are women, and of the National Assembly's 60 members, only five are women. Although the Constitution grants gender equality, "this has not yet been fully applied", the report states. The Government has sought to ensure that at least five per cent of the total number of candidates nationwide contesting any election are women. In addition, three seats in the National Assembly, out of 60, have been reserved for women.

Certain statutory laws discriminate against women, especially in the area of property and family law, the report goes on to say. Women have equal rights with men under the law in acquiring, changing or retaining their nationality, but in practice Nepalese citizenship of an applicant's father, brother or husband is required to provide citizenship to a son, daughter, brother or wife. Such a practice makes it difficult to acquire citizenship through a Nepali mother. Given such discriminatory provisions, various petitions against them have been filed in the Supreme Court by women lawyers. As a result, the Court has ordered the Government to amend discriminatory laws within two years.

Introduction of Report

TERTH MAN SHAKYA, Secretary, Nepal's Ministry of Law and Justice, introduced his delegation and drew attention to an addendum to the report

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 5 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

distributed this morning, which updated information since Nepal had submitted its initial report in May 1997.

Nepal was party to a large number of human rights instruments and had abolished the country's death penalty, he said. The 1990 Constitution provided for all basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Legislation promoting and protecting human rights had developed on the basis of equality between the sexes. However, poverty was a major obstacle to Nepal's implementation of international instruments. One half the population was estimated to live in absolute poverty and 75 per cent lived in rural areas. Legislative measures had little value unless translated into real measures. Therefore, poverty eradication should be integrated with human rights objectives.

To improve the country's poverty situation and promote sustainable development, the Government had launched numerous programmes, he said. On the eve of the twenty-first century, Nepalese women were still suppressed, exploited, neglected and forced to live insecure lives because of ill health, poverty, orthodox traditions and a discriminatory legal system. Women constituted 9.2 million, almost 50.2 per cent of the population of 18.5 million. Women in development was a national policy and several sectoral women's development programmes had been implemented.

Still, for legal and social reasons, women were denied access to employment, income and economic resources, he continued. Because of low educational levels and other social reasons, women were denied access to political and administrative decision-making. The maternal mortality ratio was 53.9 per 10,000 live births; the fertility rate was 4.6; and women's life expectancy was 53.4 years compared to men's 55.9 years. The national literacy rate was 48 per cent, but female literacy was only 30 per cent, compared to 66 per cent for men.

The Constitution enunciated women's equality before law and had a provision for special treatment for their socio-economic development, he said. Long-term women development concepts were part of the objectives of his country's Ninth Plan, which aimed, in part, to create a developed society based on women's empowerment and gender equality through mainstreaming women's participation in every aspect of national development. The Ninth Plan made women the target for achieving the overall aim of alleviating poverty and developing human resources.

He then described a number of measures which would be implemented to achieve the above goals. They included: increasing women's access to the political, economic and social sectors; enhancing coordination between agencies; and reviewing laws and regulations to ensure that they were egalitarian.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 6 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

Governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as local bodies, would be mobilized to control crime and violence against women through preventive, rehabilitative and other measures.

He said that taking the Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women into account, a Gender Equity and Women's Empowerment National Work Plan 1997 had been formulated, encompassing 12 sectors that needed serious attention, he said. Those sectors included women and poverty, education, health, violence, armed insurgency, economy, policy making, institutional structure, human rights, environment and children.

He said that programmes would be implemented for women's development, in accordance with the Ninth Plan, in order to: increase the female literacy rate from 25 per cent to 67 per cent, increase women teachers to 50 per cent and women participants in skillful vocational training to 50 per cent; enhance women's health status through health service development based on the reproductive health cycle; legally protect foetuses and pregnant mothers; and provide for safe motherhood and elderly women's health.

Additional programmes, he continued, included those that would: increase the productivity of women farmers by ensuring women's access to production technology, materials and production credit; provide women with equal rights regarding land ownership and utilization through protection of land tenancy amendments; increase women's access to economic resources and subsequently assist in the overall poverty alleviation programme through production credit and a small farmer development programme; provide microcredit through mobilizing non-governmental organizations, rural banks and private banks; control all types of violence and crimes against women; and incorporate the statistical details on women into the population census and develop indicators for the national accounting system concerning the status of and contribution made by women.

He then described some of the developments that had taken place since submission of the report, which included: the establishment of a self- reliance and rehabilitation home for women and girls, who were involved in trafficking and prostitution; the establishment of a National Coordination Council established by the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare to coordinate women's development programmes; a task force to review all discriminatory laws against women in the existing legal code; a national plan of action for the empowerment of women and gender equality; and establishment of an independent Women's Commission, which aimed at, among other things, increasing the number of women in Government and in private corporations.

With regard to trafficking in women and children, Nepal would be drafting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation's (SAARC) draft convention on trafficking in women and children, which would be taken up at the next SAARC Summit to be held in Kathmandu in November, he added.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 7 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

Experts General Comments

An expert lauded the country's efforts for democracy since 1990 and, in particular, efforts to improve girls' education. Another said the work of Nepal's non-governmental organizations for women was impressive.

She then noted that laws for equal rights were not being enforced. Trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation and child labour was a great concern, despite legislation dating back as far as 1950. Penal provisions must be carried out strictly. Children at an age of particularly high risk -- 14 years -- must be adequately protected by the Government. Women's reproductive health rights were not being recognized as a basic human right, she noted.

An expert said she would have preferred to have had the report introduced by a woman, since, when it came to their own rights and realities, women were more sensitive. Noting that Nepal had some sixty ethnic groups and castes, about 100 languages and dialects and multiple religious influences, she wondered how difficult it would be for the Government to develop a policy reaching that diverse population and enjoying their support, as well. Maintaining the cultures of different groups could sometimes be an obstacle to the advancement of women and equality.

State mechanisms in Nepal seemed to be controlled by patriarchal norms and beliefs, she said. The status of women was low. Was the minister for women and social welfare a woman? she asked. Often, ratification of the Convention led to great social progress and cultural change. One achievement was often the creation of national machinery for the advancement of women, which generally prepared the reports to the Committee. She could not identify who had prepared Nepal's report, or the extent to which non-governmental organizations had been involved.

Patriarchal values dominated laws, she said. For example, a single mother could not register the birth of her child and girls were discriminated against in adoption. Preference was deeply rooted in Nepal and its legislation. The high rate of prostitution, especially among girl children, combined with the lack of any explicit measures to prevent that criminal phenomenon, illustrated a lack of political will to overcome discrimination against women. Women's political participation was essentially non-existent, she noted.

Patriarchal attitudes and norms comprised the main obstacle for the advancement of women in Nepal and for implementing the commitments Nepal had taken under the Convention. Very little was being done to eliminate stereotypes. Nepal must start there.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 8 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

One expert noted that while Nepal had abolished the death penalty, it still criminalized prostitution, which killed women daily and denied them their right to life. Also, many women were dying from complications from abortion. Nepal had the highest level of maternal mortality in South Asia. Even under the present bill in Parliament, which sought to revise existing laws, abortion would only be legal for married women, with the consent of their husbands. Revisions need to be made and adopted as soon as possible.

Comments on Specific Articles

Turning to articles 1 and 2, an expert noted the existence of several discriminatory laws in Nepal. Regarding the bill in Parliament on inheritance and tenancy rights, submitted by the Government, she asked whether there were any obstacles foreseen for passing those bills. Also, what was the time-frame for passing them? What actions had been taken by the Government to amend the apparent discriminatory laws, such as those on marriage and bigamy, besides submitting the draft bill to Parliament?

Another expert stated that, while ratification of the Convention was a good start, the more difficult task was ahead -- compliance with its provisions. Nepal had major problems concerning poverty and health, and there was an enormous gap between law and practice. There was great significance in ensuring that laws were not only promulgated, but enforced, since that would show the people that the Government would not discriminate against any of its citizens.

She noted the urgent necessity of amending legislation to ensure that women had the same inheritance rights as men. She was concerned that while the Supreme Court had wide powers to direct policy and law, the House of Representatives had introduced a bill, which had been allowed to lapse. She was also concerned that, although the Court took action regarding inheritance, it nonetheless had asked the House of Representatives to ensure that men were not discriminated against. The Court's comments and the inaction of the House demonstrated deep-seated and damaging discrimination against women.

Nepal had said firmly that it wanted to bring women into development equally with men, she said. In its Ninth Plan, it had intended to review discriminatory laws. If the Government was serious about ensuring women's participation in development, then women had to have access to land and other assets on the same basis as men. They could not contribute without that access.

In addition, she said that the ages at which women and men could marry should be the same. The Committee's general recommendation 21 discussed the reasons for ensuring that young women attain the age of 18 before they marry. The Government had to urgently prohibit and punish severely the marriage of children under the age of 16, which was an infringement of bodily integrity

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 9 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

and the right to childhood. Also, she said that the laws of nationality required amendments to allow children of Nepalese women to obtain nationality on the same basis as men.

She noted that there were very few women in the judiciary. There were many capable female lawyers in the country, and it was important to begin looking vigorously for qualified women to be appointed to the judiciary. The composition of the Judicial Council might require the addition of women to ensure that that was done. Also, Nepal had to amend its laws to eliminate the practice of dowry.

The criminal law also required review, to ensure that men and women were treated equally under the law, she added. She was concerned that there was no law and policy directed at the elimination of violence against women. If the Government were to conduct research, it would find that that was a serious problem. The Committee's general recommendation 19 and the 1993 General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women set out a useful definition of violence, which could be a starting point for legislation and policy to eliminate that scourge.

On a positive note, she applauded the Government for the preliminary steps being taken to eliminate trafficking against women. She was pleased that the Government had recognized how serious a problem it was for the women and families of Nepal.

An expert said she had read the report with great distress. Of all the tasks facing the Government, adopting legal measures would be the easiest and must be the first to start the process of eliminating discrimination against women. For example, women were discriminated against regarding custody rights after divorce -- women who remarried lost their right to custody. That must be amended. Addressing poverty and social stereotypes were formidable challenges, but legislating equality was possible.

On the status of abortion in Nepal, she said the Committee's general recommendation number 24, on article 12 of the Convention, concerning women and health, stated that it was discriminatory for a State party to refuse to legally provide for the performance of certain reproductive health services for women. To refuse to legally provide reproductive health services to women was discriminatory, and must be taken care of as soon as possible.

Another Committee member said that the report and addendum indicated that numerous laws would have to be reviewed to become neutral. But how exactly was that to be done? she asked. She took note of an existing procedure by which laws could automatically become null and void if they violated certain rights and commitments. Many laws, according to the report, had indeed been declared null and void. Had that constitutional provision been used, or would it be used, regarding women's human rights? She then

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 10 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

asked how Nepal would set up legislation making it possible to truly apply equal rights for men and women.

Another expert said Nepal was one of the few South Asian countries to ratify nearly all the human rights instruments. Under article 2 of the women's Convention, governments were obligated to take all appropriate measures to abolish discriminatory laws and customs. While Nepal was clearly aware of its obligations and of the Convention, it was quite disappointing that a large number of discriminatory laws and provisions continued to exist, such as laws governing inheritance, succession and marriage.

Regarding inheritance, she said complex social and legal mechanisms reinforced each other, so that in the end, women did not inherit or had to forfeit their inheritance rights. The Government indicated that that was due largely to poverty and lack of social awareness, but how would public awareness be raised when formal laws were not in place? she asked. When public institutions allowed discrimination to continue, that perpetuated the social mechanisms that allowed women to be discriminated against.

She then asked what active steps had been taken to abolish discriminatory legislation. Public authorities and institutions must act firmly in compliance with their constitutional commitments. Social behaviour would not change until then. Formal equality must precede informal equality, she stressed.

Another expert emphasized that laws must be abolished if they contradicted conventions that the State was party to, and contradicted the Constitution itself. The Government of Nepal must take bold steps to do away with traditional and cultural elements that discriminated against women.

She said she had been disturbed by the resignation expressed in the report that discrimination might continue to exist for a long time. The Government "must see to it that the long time was as short as possible", she said. Laws must be in place to guarantee equality. Government must exert political will. Particularly where patriarchal and authoritarian traditions were strong, the attitude of the political authority, and its open and unflinching commitment to women's equality, was extremely effective.

Next, an expert said Nepal stood out in South Asia regarding the power of its people to make a popular government. But there were many contradictions in a country whose laws and Constitution did not match. The Constitution recognized that treaties were integrated into law, so that any contradictory legislation was automatically void.

According to the report, women contributed more to the national economy than men and they worked longer hours, yet it seemed that their significance was not recognized, she said. The Government should accord women the

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 11 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

significance they deserved, not merely by putting into place a national policy, but also by identifying indicators. The national plan of action must include target dates for specific achievements. Had targets been developed with regard to health and education? she asked. What was the long-term plan in terms of dates for introducing legal reform?

She then noted that a national legal premise was that treaty law prevailed, yet Supreme Court decisions indicating that premise were not given effect. When the Supreme Court decided a case, bureaucratic efforts for policy-making should follow. The legitimacy of the legal system was deeply undermined when Supreme Court decisions were not followed by the Government.

Turning to article 5, concern was expressed by members with prevalent customary practices, such as child marriage and bigamy. While Nepal had legislation to combat those problems, it was ineffective since punishment amounted to a "slap on the wrist", said one expert. One example was that a polygamist was subject to two months imprisonment and a fine. Such a law was ineffective and was another way of indirectly sanctioning the practice of polygamy. She drew the Government's attention to the Committee's general recommendation 21 and suggested it revisit its penalty clause on that law, with a view to sending a clear message that polygamy was unacceptable in Nepal.

With regard to child marriage, she wanted to know what plans the Government had to send a serious message to the persons involved in child marriages that it was moving beyond legislation and forward to enforcement.

Also, she noted that the Supreme Court had given an order that the Government amend existing discriminatory legislation within two years. What was the status of that order?

An expert stated that the elimination of deep-rooted cultural beliefs that discriminated against women would require well-coordinated efforts. She wanted more information on the programme carried out by the Ministry of Education in that regard, as well as any programmes or training on gender themes in the community and media. Coordination with non-governmental organizations, United Nations specialized agencies and other international organizations was important to bringing about greater awareness.

Several issues had not been addressed at all in the report, noted several experts. One of those was violence against women, particularly domestic violence, which non-governmental organization reports had stated was widespread in the country. An expert wanted to know what forms of assistance were given to women who were victims of violence.

Another expert was concerned about custodial violence. She noted that abortion carried a very high sentence, even up to 20 years in prison. What

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 12 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

protection was offered to women against custodial rape and other forms of violence? she asked. There had been no reference to dowry in the report, which was an issue of great concern in other countries in South Asia, she noted.

Polygamy continued to be a big problem even though it had been banned, said another expert. The rate was as high as 64 per cent, which far exceeded that of many Muslim countries. Had there been any efforts to study the extent of that problem? she asked.

She also raised the issue of the tradition of dedicating young girls to temples and engaging them in prostitution, which constituted another form of violence.

With regard to the SAARC draft convention on trafficking in women and children, she said that it was now ready for signature and wanted to know if Nepal had any plans to ratify it.

Tourism was another area that the report was silent on, she noted. Nepal had the most booming tourism industry in South Asia, and tourism was another source of sexual exploitation. Another expert wanted to know what income the country was deriving from tourism and what training was being given to women to benefit from tourist activities. Women had to be given professional training to help combat trafficking.

One expert noted the large number of ethnic minority groups in the country, the smaller of whom lived in remote, mountainous areas. That isolation had strong bearing on the situation of women in those groups, she said. She requested more information on the problem of women and bonded labour in certain ethnic minority groups. Women in the Dalit community were triply discriminated against, since they were women, poor and of the lowest caste. Dalit women constituted more than 2 million of Nepal's female population.

Also, she continued, they had a literacy rate of 4 per cent and the highest maternal mortality rate among Nepalese women. They had limited scope for upward mobility, were becoming more involved in prostitution, and made up a significant number of the women in prison. Did the Government have any rehabilitation plans, policies or laws to address their plight? she asked. Also, were there any laws prohibiting discrimination based on caste?

An expert wanted to know what measures of the national plan on trafficking in women, drafted by the Ministry for Women and Social Welfare, had already been implemented and what would be done in the near future.

Another expert, endorsing the concerns about trafficking, said that it was true that in Nepal there was a desire to fight trafficking of young

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 13 - Press Release WOM/1136 434th Meeting (AM) 15 June 1999

people. What real measures had been taken to combat the problem? she asked. Did the Government had any contact with Interpol?

The report said that 100,000 women had been trafficked to India, and the addendum described an intended policy to tackle the problems of slavery and exploitation of human beings, an expert noted. Those problems were urgent and widespread, yet the addendum did not indicate a time target. The plans were good, but she wondered whether implementation had begun yet. Nepal planned to rehabilitate victims and provide compensation to them. Had that occurred? she asked. Were there centres to care for girls who had been physically and mentally traumatized? Had the plan of free legal counselling for victims of violence begun? The terrible problem was exacerbated by Nepal's severe and widespread poverty. While Nepal planned to issue publications to educate women on the subject, the high rate of women's illiteracy must be considered. Effective action must be taken immediately.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.