Nepal | January 17, 2021

Witchcraft violence continues unabated across Nepal

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Despite criminalisation of ‘witchcraft’ accusations and any assault, ill-treatment and torture of women accused of practising witchcraft continues to take toll on society.

Statistics provided by Nepal Police showed that it filed a total of 46 cases of ‘witchcraft’ accusations and subsequent torture at the concerned district courts across the country in 2018-19, 34 cases in 2019-20 and 13 cases as of mid-September in the current fiscal.

Nepal Police said the number of victims were 51 and 32, while the perpetrators were 60 and 53 in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively.

The security agency said 15 victims lodged FIRs against 21 perpetrators as of mid-September in the current fiscal.

Of the 98 victims from fiscal 2018-19 to mid-September of the current fiscal, 94 are women and four are minors, who mainly belong to low-income families.

“The country recorded 51 cases of witchcraft accusation in 2018-19 compared to 32 in 2019-20. It indicates that the superstitious social malpractices are gradually on the wane,” read the police report.

Accusation of ‘witchcraft’ is also a form of violence against women. Nepal Police said such incidents resulted from unequal power relations between men and women. The victims are often tortured after being accused of practicing so-called witchcraft. The main reasons for prevalence of these malpractices are superstition, lack of education, social and economic disparity and lack of public awareness, among others.

Usually, helpless women, single women and differently-abled women are accused of being a ‘witch’ as and when their neighbours or family members die or fall sick for any reason whatsoever. The victims are also smeared with soot, forcefully fed human excreta, beaten up, expelled from the village or even killed. According to Nepal Police, the perpetrators include family members, neighbours and witch doctors.

The Criminal Code Act stipulates stringent action against those involved in the inhuman treatment of a man or a woman by accusing him or her of practising ‘witchcraft’.

According to Section 168 of the act, the perpetrator of such activities shall be liable to a jail sentence of up to five years, along with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. If any person working at a government office commits such an act, he/she shall be handed an additional threemonths jail term, in addition to the punishment as prescribed by this law.

If the perpetrator fails to pay compensation to the victim on grounds of his/her poor financial status, the government will make necessary arrangements for relief to the victim through Gender-based Violence Prevention Fund.

A version of this article appears in print on October 12, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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