KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The first person to be convicted in Nepal over the death of a woman banished from her home during her period has walked free after paying a fine to cut his jail term short, a court official said on Friday.
A court in western Nepal sentenced Chhatra Rawat to 45 days in jail earlier this week after his 21-year-old sister-in-law suffocated to death in a “menstrual hut”.
She died of smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to keep warm, a common cause of death among women subjected to the traditional practice of chhaupadi, which was outlawed 15 years ago but remains pervasive in parts of the Himalayan country.
The court official, Prem Prakash Thapa, said the judge in the western district of Achham had issued the sentence after finding Rawat guilty on Tuesday, the first time anyone has been convicted over chhaupadi.
But the 25-year-old, who had already spent 25 days in police custody, walked free after paying 6,000 Nepali rupees ($52) to avoid spending another 20 days in prison.
Authorities in Nepal have in recent years sought to crack down on chhaupadi, which stems from the belief that menstruating women and girls are impure and can bring misfortune if allowed in the home.
The government began demolishing huts built for the purpose this month and more than 3,000 have been destroyed so far, said Kedar Nath Sharma, a home ministry spokesman.
But human rights advocates said more needed to be done to combat the practice, from raising awareness of the dangers to introducing harsher penalties for breaking the law.
“Legal action and pulling down the huts are not enough to control chhaupadi, which must also be addressed socially,” said one of the country’s most prominent female activists, Mohna Ansari, a member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission.
The law currently allows anyone found guilty to be jailed for up to three months, but human rights lawyer Om Prakash Aryal said stricter penalties were needed.
“The punishment stipulated in the law is inadequate on account of the gravity of the crime,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It should be amended to effectively control chhaupadi-related crimes. If the victim dies while in a chhaupadi hut, the law related to homicide should be applied.”
Nonetheless, some women’s rights activists welcomed the country’s first conviction, saying it sent a strong message.
“In the future, people will be discouraged from forcing women in their families to stay in huts during their periods,” said Sharmila Karki, founder of charity Jagaran Nepal that works against chhaupadi.
Editing by Annie Banerji and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories