Nepal | May 28, 2020

HIV-positive women being abandoned, facing social stigma

Sabitri Dhakal
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Kathmandu, June 7

Although the new penal code criminalises abandonment or expulsion of sick members by a family, women suffering from human immunodeficiency virus are found to be abandoned and ignored by their husbands and families. The government bodies and non-governmental organisations continue to sensitise people to the need of taking care of an HIV-positive member in a family, yet its impact in the society remains negligible.

Rani Gurung (name changed), 39, contracted HIV from her husband. Her in-laws started ill-treating her after the husband’s death 13 years ago. “My in-laws became abusive and started scolding me even for trivial things. They would not touch the materials that I had touched for fear of contracting HIV. The abuse grew to such an extent that I was forced to leave home,” she said.

Even Gurung’s own daughter, who is now married and lives in the capital, just a few kilometres away from her rented room, doesn’t come to see her. “She does not respond to my calls,” she added.

“I need financial and emotional support, but there is no one to help me.  I get help from another HIV positive person,” she added.

Gurung is not the only person who is abandoned by her family. Forty-nine-year-old Sanu Chettri (name changed), another HIV- positive person, who is visually challenged, was abandoned by her husband nine years ago, on her way to Nepalgunj, their hometown. “I don’t know where my husband is. He hasn’t contacted me for the past nine years,” she said and added that she contacted her in-laws but they too shied away from her.

Abandoned by families, these two women came to Kathmandu seeking employment for survival. They said they lacked money to pay their house rent and for medical treatment on a regular basis.

“Seeking employment is challenging. I fear that no one will hire me if I reveal that I am an HIV positive person,” Chettri said. She has not told her landlord about her health condition for the fear of expulsion from her rented room.

“Direct and indirect torture is meted out to HIV infected women,” said Smriti Khadka, country director of ASHA Nepal, an organisation working to control girl trafficking. She said patriarchal values, women’s low literacy rate, their subjugated role in community, economic dependence, and lack of decision making power were major causes of discrimination against women in Nepali society.

According to Khadka, there are also cases where women are forced to live in sheds after the death of their husbands.

“Unable to bear such deplorable situation and psychological trauma, women have no option but to leave home,” Khadka added.

“It is not only the women but also men with HIV also face discrimination,” said Anup Bastola, consultant tropical medicine physician at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku.

TIll July 2018 there were 10,215 women suffering from HIV, according to National Centre for AIDS and STD Control.

According to National Demographic Health Survey 2016, discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV are more common among rural women and men (50 per cent and 37 per cent) compared to urban women and men (35 per cent and 31 per cent).

As per Section 182 (2) of penal code, a person guilty of abandoning children, incapacitated person, sick and elderly people could face jail term not exceeding three years and fine not exceeding Rs 30,000. If abandonment results in death of the above mentioned persons, then the guilty will face a jail term up to seven years and fine up to Rs 70,000.

To mitigate discrimination of disadvantaged section of the society, the government is coming up with awareness programmes. “Special programmes will also be conducted in key population areas,” said Tara Nath Pokharel, director of NCASC.


A version of this article appears in print on June 08, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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