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Nepali girl’s rape triggers nationwide outrage

Nepali activists take part in protest rally, demanding justice after the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, in Kathmandu on August 25, 2018. Source: AAP

Rape cases in India have hit the headlines recently but the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in neighbouring Nepal, has shocked the country where the rape of minors is also on the increase.

Nirmala Panta's murder has gripped the nation for almost two months now.

The 13-year old, from Kanchanpur, in far western Nepal, went missing on July 26, reportedly on her way to a friends house to do homework.

When she failed to return her mother filed a complaint with police the same day, but her body was found the next day in a sugarcane field. She had been raped and strangled.

“Nirmala's case stands out because of the zeal both her family and the society have shown to get justice."

The incident gained national attention. The local community staged protests to voice their dissatisfaction with the way investigation was being handled. They accused police of protecting those involved in her rape and murder.

Protesters in Kathmandu demand death sentence for rapists on 18 August 2018.
Protesters in Kathmandu demand death sentence for rapists on 18 August 2018.
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The government suspended a couple of high ranked officers and formed a new investigation committee.

Locals were further enraged when police announced they had a suspect, a man with reportedly severe learning difficulties. They claimed was not the attacker and accused police of a cover-up.

Protests, though, spread to the capital, Kathmandu, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets, including schoolchildren, demanding justice with the hashtag #justicefornirmala. A teenage boy was killed and dozens injured in protests which have continued since Nirmala’s death.

The community's involvement and the resilience shown by the victim's family for justice makes this case different, say rights activists.

"Sexual assault is a serious problem in the country, but people try to hide it because they think it will be difficult for the victim to gain social acceptance,” says Dr Renu Adhikari, a women’s rights activist.

“Nirmala's case stands out because of the zeal both her family and the society have shown to get justice."

Cases of reported rape have risen over the past few years. According to police 1,093 complaints of rape had been filed nationwide three years ago.

That number has risen to over 1,500 last year. A survey conducted by Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board revealed that around 60 per cent of rape victims were girls under 16 years of age. One-third of them were below the age of ten.

 

Parent’s plea for justice

Murder victim Nirmala Panta's parents sit with protesters in Kathmandu on Saturday 16 Sept 18.
Murder victim Nirmala Panta's parents sit with protesters in Kathmandu on Saturday 16 Sept 18.
Supplied

Unsatisfied with investigation process, Nirmala's parents, Yagyaraj and Durga Devi, travelled from their home to the capital, Kathmandu, knocking on the doors of various ministers pleading for justice.

Earlier this week they met Prime Minister KP Oli. But that too has not been able to reassure Nirmala's mother, Durga.

“He was very sympathetic and said justice would be delivered and yet I am not reassured," she said.

Durga says she has gone through so much over the past month and a half and the way the investigation has unfolded has made her cynical.

Cases of reported rape have risen over the past few years. According to police 1,093 complaints of rape had been filed nationwide three years ago.

Women rights activists say Durga's words reflect the fury of victims and their family in general.

"In many cases, we have found that the police had overlooked crucial evidence that could have strengthened the victim's case. They need to be more serious in such sensitive cases," said advocate Sushma Gautam.

Negligence in gathering evidence makes it easier for perpetrators to walk freely she says.

Nirmala's parents too have been expressing their dissatisfaction with the evidence gathered by the police from day one.

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