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Nepal

Nepal bans online porn as outrage builds over shocking violence against women and girls

Critics slam government’s response to sexual violence as ‘diversionary tactic’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 9:00pm

In July, it was 13-year-old Nirmala Panta, raped and killed in the Nepali town of Kanchapur. She was kidnapped on her way to her friend’s house to pick up a notebook.

A few months later, it was a 10-year-old child, raped and then strangled by a group of five men.

And just last month, it was Samjhana and Sushmita Das, teenage sisters attacked with acid by a neighbour as they slept in bed. The girls were driven seven hours to a hospital in Kathmandu.

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Samjhana, 18, died during treatment. The assailant, a family friend who accompanied the girls on their drive to the hospital, called Samjhana 180 times in the two weeks before the attack, demanding that she have sex with him.

The spate of violence against women has shocked the small country in the Himalayas, sparking national protests and calls for better policing and accountability. Instead, the government unveiled a different solution: a ban on online pornography.

“In order to prevent the access of such content through electronic media, the need of pulling down such websites inside Nepal has become necessary,” the government said in a recent statement. It is already illegal to produce and share sexually obscene content in Nepal. The country will block access to pornographic sites, though they will still be accessible via VPN.

But critics have said that the ban is little more than a distraction.

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“It’s merely a diversionary tactic to hide the government’s incompetence in prosecuting rapists,” Shubha Kayastha from Internet Society Nepal told ABC. “A better approach to addressing sexual violence would be to empower people and respect their sexual agency, and punish the perpetrators of sex crimes.”

Anup Kaphle, who edits The Kathmandu Post, wrote on Twitter that the Nepalese government is “filled with officials who have nothing but lame, unoriginal ideas, including banning porn sites to prevent incidents of rape.”

Activists and women’s groups are calling instead for better policing and education. A major concern is that local police departments often act to protect the attacker rather than the victim. Advocates say this was a major issue when law enforcement set out to investigate Panta’s killing. Community activists say the police conspired to conceal the identity of the real attackers and falsely accused a man with severe learning disabilities.

Ujjwal Acharya tweeted “This happens when the state fails its citizens. Mother & father of 13-year-old victim of rape/murder demand justice as thousands march with them in solidarity. #JusticeforNirmala #RuleOfLaw”

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Protests over the mishandling of the case spread throughout the country and to the capital. Thousands took to the streets to demand #justicefornirmala. At least one teenage boy was killed and others were injured when things turned violent.

The number of reported rapes has risen sharply in Nepal in the past three years, jumping from 1,093 to 1,677 in 2017. According to Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board, 60 per cent of reported rape victims in Nepal are younger than 16. A third of all victims are younger than 10.

The number of acid attacks has also jumped significantly, doubling since 2016.