After years of advocacy by the Centre for Reproductive Rights and its Nepal-based partners, the Government of Nepal has agreed to decriminalise abortion and protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

The move came with Nepal's acceptance of the July 8 Report of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review on Nepal before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Universal Periodic Review is a comprehensive human rights review that takes place for each country before the United Nations Human Rights Council, usually every four years. In July 2020, the Centre, along with Nepal-based partners the Forum for Women Law and Development and Justice and Rights Institute-Nepal, made a joint submission for the UPR report as non-governmental organisations.

The submission focused on the continuing legal and procedural barriers to accessing safe abortion services and the grave impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Nepal.

During each country's UPR, UN Member States can ask questions and make recommendations to the nation under review. During a cycle of Nepal's UPR earlier this year, France recommended that the country decriminalise abortion and concretely protect the rights and sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. Nepal accepted France's recommendation as part of the UPR commitments.

"This is a key milestone in our efforts to decriminalise abortion and advance reproductive rights as human rights around the globe," said Prabina Bajracharya, the Centre's Capacity Building Manager for Asia. "We look forward to working with our partners and government officials in Nepal to ensure these recommendations are fully and effectively implemented."

In 2018, prior to the UPR, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Committee also recommended that Nepal fully decriminalise abortion in all cases and legalise it at least in cases of risk to the health of the mother.

This would be in addition to cases of rape, incest and severe fetal impairment, for which abortion is already legalised.

In 2018, Nepal enacted the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Rights Act, which was intended to respect, protect, and fulfill women's reproductive health rights and recognise access to abortion as a right to reproductive health. But since the Act failed to fully decriminalise abortion, women faced a continued risk of prosecution for abortion care.

After Nepal's acceptance of the UPR report, the Centre and its partners met with government representatives on the implementation of Nepal's recent commitment.

On July 26, they met with members of the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights to brief the committee on the decriminalisation of abortion. Subsequently, the committee instructed the Ministry of Law and Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens, and the Ministry of Health to take the necessary steps in line with the UPR and CEDAW recommendations.

"This is a concrete outcome that will help improve the reproductive rights and health of women and girls throughout Nepal," said Bajracharya.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 7 2021, of The Himalayan Times.