Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 08:29 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Nepal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Nepal, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3c2c.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
NEPAL

 

Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government and an independent judiciary. In 1990 the King, formerly an absolute monarch, legalized political parties after which an interim government promulgated a new constitution. The King retains important residual powers but has dissociated himself from the direct exercise of governance. The democratically elected Parliament consists of the House of Representatives (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). Since the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal has held three national elections, two for the Parliament and one for local officials. International observers consider these elections to have been generally free and fair. The Government changed hands in September, and the transfer of power to the new coalition was peaceful.

The national police force maintains internal security, assisted as necessary by the Royal Nepalese Army. The army is traditionally loyal to the King and avoids involvement in domestic politics. The police are subject to civilian control, but local officials have wide discretion in maintaining law and order. While the police continue to exercise restraint in handling violent political demonstrations (with one notable exception), they continue to be responsible for abuses in custody.

Nepal is an extremely poor country, with an annual per capita gross domestic product estimated at around $200. Over 80 percent of its 20 million people support themselves through subsistence agriculture. Principal crops include rice, wheat, maize, jute, and potatoes. Tourism and the export of carpets and garments provide the major sources of foreign exchange. Foreign aid accounts for more than half of the development budget. The economy is mixed with 60 public sector industries, some of which the Government has privatized.

Since political reform began in 1990, Nepal has progressed in its transition to a more open society with greater respect for human rights. However, problems remain because the Government fails to enforce all of the Constitution's provisions. The police continue to abuse detainees, often using physical abuse as punishment or to extract confessions. The Government remains unwilling to investigate allegations of police brutality or to take action against those involved. The authorities employ arbitrary arrest and detention, and prison conditions remain poor. The Government continues to impose some restrictions on freedom of religion and expression. Lower castes and women suffer widespread discrimination. Trafficking in women and girls and child labor remain serious problems. Violence against women and forced labor are also problems. The previous Government, run by the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist-Leninist (UML), detained and forcibly repatriated Tibetan asylum seekers.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings. However, in June a man died while in police custody in Hetauda (central Nepal). The authorities detained the man as part of the investigation of a traffic accident despite injuries that he sustained in the accident. The following day the police rushed the unconscious man to a hospital, where doctors declared him dead on arrival. In Bharatpur (Central Nepal) a 37-year-old man arrested for drunkenness died in police custody in December. Police said he cut himself on broken glass and bled to death. It is unclear whether he died from police abuse or medical neglect. In January a young girl incarcerated with a parent reportedly died from lack of medical treatment (see Sections 1.c. and 5).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Two student activists that the police took into custody in 1993 and 1994 remain missing. The Supreme Court has investigated these disappearances, but the police maintain that they are not holding the students.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture, the law does not define torture as a criminal offense. The police commonly use physical abuse to punish suspects or to extract confessions. Credible evidence indicates that an arrested American was kicked and beaten with bamboo sticks by police in March. The Government has failed to conduct thorough and independent investigations of reports of police brutality and refused to take significant disciplinary action against officers involved. The Constitution provides for compensation for victims, but a compensation bill introduced in Parliament in 1993 remains in committee.

On July 24, police fired into a crowd in Mugu (western Nepal) protesting a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister. The police injured 21 Nepali Congress Party (NCP) members during this incident.

Political groups engaged in physical abuse and violence. Members of opposition parties stoned bus drivers and attacked shop owners who refused to honor nationwide strikes. On July 25, a UML member and a Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP) supporter suffered injuries during a clash between UML party members and a group composed of NCP and National Democratic Party (NDP) supporters in Jumla during another speech by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Prison conditions are poor. Overcrowding is common, and authorities sometimes handcuff or fetter detainees. Women are incarcerated separately from men, but in similar conditions. The Government has not implemented a provision in the 1992 Children's Act calling for the establishment of a juvenile home and juvenile court. Consequently, children are sometimes incarcerated with adults--either as criminals or with an incarcerated parent. Concerned groups estimate that 74 children remained in prison in 1995. In January a 5-year old girl, the daughter of an inmate, died from lack of medical treatment for a respiratory infection, according to a human rights group (see Sections 1.a. and 5).

There has been some improvement in prison conditions. The authorities are more likely to transfer sick prisoners to hospitals than they were in the past. Due to the inadequacy of medical facilities in the country, the authorities often place the mentally ill in jails under inhumane conditions. The Government permits local human rights groups to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution stipulates that the authorities must arraign or release a suspect within 24 hours of arrest, but the police often violate this provision. Under the Public Offenses Act of 1970, the police must obtain warrants for an arrest unless a person is caught in the act of committing a crime. For many offenses, the case must be filed in court within 7 days of arrest. If the court upholds the detention, the law authorizes the police to hold the suspect for 25 days to complete their investigation, with a possible extension of 7 days. The Supreme Court on occasion ordered the release of detainees held longer than 24 hours without a court appearance. The police often violate this provision by arbitrarily holding suspects.

Detainees do not have the legal right to receive visits by family members and are permitted access to lawyers only after the authorities file charges. In practice, the police grant access to prisoners on a haphazard basis that varies from prison to prison. There is a system of bail, but bonds are usually too expensive for most citizens.

Under the Public Security Act, the authorities may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other states, and relations between citizens of different classes or religions. Persons that the Government detains under the Act are considered in preventive detention and are not brought to trial.

The 1991 amendments to the Public Security Act allow the authorities to extend periods of detention after submitting written notices to the Home Ministry. The police must notify the district court of the detention within 24 hours, and the court may order an additional 6 months of detention before authorities file official charges.

Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit arbitrary detention. This Act and its many amendments cover such crimes as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. Under this Act, the Government detained hundreds of civil servants during a 55-day antigovernment strike in 1991. Human rights monitors express concern that the Act vests too much discretionary power in the Chief District Officer (CDO), the highest ranking civil servant in each of the country's 75 districts. The Act authorizes the CDO to order detentions, to issue search warrants, and to specify fines and other punishments for misdemeanors without judicial review. Detainees may appeal the decisions of the CDO's.

There were no reports of political detainees.

The Constitution prohibits exile; it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary has shown independence at the level of the Supreme Court, but is vulnerable to pressure from political parties and bribery at lower levels.

The Supreme Court ruled that important provisions in the 1992 Labor Act and in the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act are unconstitutional. The Court decided that the dissolution of the Parliament at the request of the former Prime Minster in June 1995 was unconstitutional and ordered the body restored on August 28.

Appellate and district courts have also become increasingly independent, although they sometimes bend to political pressure. In a recent example, a district court complied with a central Government request to withdraw two murder charges against the current Home Minister in November. The Home Minister holds the highest law enforcement position in the land, and several human rights organizations have criticized this action, even though the request is legally permissible.

The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The King appoints judges on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, a constitutional body chaired by the chief justice. The Council is also responsible for the assignment of judges, disciplinary action, and other administrative matters.

The Constitution provides for the right to counsel, protection from double jeopardy and retroactive application of the law, and public trials, except in some security and customs cases. All lower court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal, but the King may grant pardons, and he can suspend, commute, or remit any sentence.

Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel, who are immune from prosecution in civilian courts. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that military courts may no longer try civilians for crimes involving the military.

The authorities may prosecute terrorism or treason cases under the Treason Act. Specially constituted tribunals hear these trials in closed sessions. However, no such trials took place during the year.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government generally respected the privacy of the home and family. Search warrants are required before search and seizure except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations. As amended, the Police Act of 1955 empowers the police to issue warrants for search and seizure in criminal cases upon receipt of information about criminal activities. Within 24 hours of their issuance, warrants in misdemeanor cases must be approved by the CDO. Court judges must approve them in felony cases.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution specifies that all citizens shall have freedom of thought and expression and that the Government may not censor any news item or other reading material. Nevertheless, the Constitution prohibits speech and writing that would threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom; that would disturb the harmonious relations among people of different castes or communities; that would promote sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or instigation to commit crime; or that would contradict decent public behavior or morality.

The Press and Publications Act provides for the licensing of publications and the granting of credentials to journalists.

The Act includes penalties for violating these requirements. The Act also prohibits publication of material that promotes disrespect toward the King or royal family; that undermines security, peace, order, the dignity of the King, and the integrity or sovereignty of the kingdom; that creates animosity among people of different castes and religions; or that adversely affects the good conduct or morality of the public. The regulation also provides a basis for banning foreign publications.

Although there are hundreds of independent vernacular and English newspapers representing various political points of view, most have a small circulation and limited impact. The Government owns the vernacular daily paper with the largest circulation. Editors and writers at the government paper practice self-censorship and generally reflect government policy. Ruling political parties have influenced the editorial policy of the government paper to their advantage.

The Government owns and controls the major radio and television stations. Radio reaches the greatest number of people and has the largest influence. Programming currently reflects a broader range of interests and political viewpoints than prior to the political transformation in 1990, but still closely follows the government line. The Government does not restrict access to foreign radio broadcasts or to the purchase of television satellite dishes which can access international news from the British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable News Network. The Broadcast Act of 1993 allows private parties to broadcast television and FM radio. There are two private television stations (cable and microwave) which have been operating for over a year in the Kathmandu Valley. They provide mainly entertainment programming and do no local research or reporting. No private FM radio licenses have yet been granted, although at least seven have been requested. Some broadcasters, who have purchased equipment and are ready to begin broadcasting, have been awaiting licenses for 2 years. A Government station began broadcasting in November.

There has been much debate about liberalizing the media generally and privatizing government-owned media in particular. This debate has put pressure, so far successfully resisted, on successive governments to open up the air waves and sell off government-controlled printing press operations.

The Government limits academic freedom to the same extent as the media. No overt efforts to enforce these limitations were reported this year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, this right may be restricted by law on such vague grounds as undermining the sovereignty and integrity of the State or disturbing law and order. There were no reports of arrest or detention for exercising these freedoms.

c. Freedom of Religion

The majority of citizens are Hindu. The Constitution describes Nepal as a Hindu kingdom, although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion. The Constitution permits the practice of all religions and prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste except for traditional religious practices at Hindu temples. Although the Government has generally not interfered with the practices of other religions, conversion is prohibited and punishable with fines or imprisonment, and police occasionally harass members of minority religions. Some groups are concerned that the ban on proselytizing limits the expression of non-Hindu religious belief. Foreigners convicted of proselytizing can be expelled from the country.

Eleven Christians were arrested in September 1994 for proselytizing and sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment in August. The case received considerable international attention. The 11 were pardoned by the King and released on Constitution Day, November 9.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement and residence, and the Government generally does not restrict travel abroad. However, the Government restricts travel to some areas on the Chinese border to foreign tourists and to foreign residents, such as Tibetans residing in Nepal. The Government allows citizens abroad to return home and is not known to revoke citizenship for political reasons.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has maintained an office in Kathmandu since 1989. The Government aids UNHCR's efforts by facilitating access to refugees from Bhutan.

The Government has no official refugee policy and is party to neither the 1951 U.N. Convention nor the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Since 1959 the Government has accepted approximately 20,000 Tibetan refugees many of whom still reside in the country. In the mid-1970's, the Government suspended issuance of identification cards to Tibetans. Undocumented Tibetan residents face difficulties in obtaining basic citizens' rights and are unable to travel abroad or access such services as banking. Some also face possible deportation. The UNHCR now donates blank resident identification cards to the Government for Tibetans. Issuance resumed in early 1995. By mid-July, issuance of identification cards to about 5,000 out of an estimated 7,000 Tibetan residents outside the Kathmandu Valley was completed. Due to logistical and political obstacles, issuance of identification cards to Kathmandu's approximately 13,000 Tibetan refugees has been suspended.

China and the Government of Nepal tightened movement across their border in 1986, but both sides have observed such restrictions haphazardly. The authorities continued to harass Tibetan asylum seekers who tried to cross the border from China. Border police often turn back asylum seekers or extort money from Tibetans in exchange for passage. Early in the year, the UML Government reversed a tacit policy of conveying Tibetan asylum seekers to the UNHCR facility in Kathmandu for processing and onward travel to India. Although the UML Government officially denied any change in policy, some Tibetans apprehended in border areas were turned over to Chinese officials and others, who had reached the capital, were deported.

Through late July, the UNHCR had confirmed reports of forced repatriation of about 200 Tibetan asylum seekers. The reduced number of Tibetan asylum seekers processed by UNHCR this year reflects this change. From February to May, only one-third of the 1993 and 1994 volume of refugees for the corresponding period was processed by UNHCR.

Various embassies and the UNHCR protested the Government's "deny and deport" actions. As a result of these protests, the UML Government appeared to improve its cooperation with UNHCR since July, at least in cases that came to UNHCR's attention. In October the head of the new coalition Government reaffirmed the previous policy of respect for internationally respected rights for asylum seekers.

The number of ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan declined in 1995. Nevertheless, the camps in southeastern Nepal house 90,000 refugees. Upwards of an estimated 15,000 reside outside the camps in either Nepal or India. The total represents over one sixth of Bhutan's estimated population before the exodus began.

The UNHCR monitors the condition of the Bhutanese refugees and provides for their basic needs. The Government accepts the refugee presence on humanitarian grounds but offers little more than a place to stay. Living conditions in the camps have improved dramatically since 1992. Adequate clean water is available and health, sanitation, and nutrition standards are acceptable. Violence has sometimes broken out between camp residents and the local population. Relief organizations working in the camps sometimes distribute token relief supplies to defuse the situation. The German Government recently agreed to fund a 4-year program aimed at improving conditions in communities adjacent to the camps.

In 1993 the governments of Nepal and Bhutan formed a joint committee to resolve the refugee problem and to determine different categories of refugees in preparation for future repatriation. Six rounds of bilateral talks have been held with little concrete progress.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens, through their elected representatives, have the right to amend the Constitution with the exception of certain basic principles that they may not change--sovereignty vested in the people, the multiparty system, fundamental rights, and the constitutional monarchy.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled every 5 years. Midterm elections may be called if the ruling party loses its majority, loses a vote of no confidence, or calls for elections. The Constitution grants suffrage to all citizens age 18 and over.

The November 1994 elections were generally fair, but some irregularities occurred, including vote tampering. A three-party coalition now has a majority in Parliament after passing in September a no-confidence motion against the previous minority government. In June the minority Prime Minister had attempted to block the motion by asking the King to dissolve Parliament and call midterm elections. The current coalition parties challenged this action. In August the Supreme Court ruled the former Prime Minister's request unconstitutional and ordered Parliament restored. The transfer of power was generally peaceful.

The House of Representatives, or lower house, may send legislation directly to the King by majority vote. The National Council, or upper house, may amend or reject lower house legislation but the lower house can overrule its objections. The upper house may also introduce legislation and send it to the lower house for consideration.

The King exercises certain powers with the advice and consent of the Council of Ministers. These include exclusive authority to enact, amend, and repeal laws relating to succession to the throne. The King's income and property are tax-exempt and inviolable, and no question may be raised in any court about any act performed by the King. The Constitution also permits the King to exercise emergency powers in the event of war, external aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic depression. In such an emergency, the King may suspend without judicial review many basic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and assembly, freedom from censorship and freedom from preventive detention. However, he may not suspend habeas corpus or the right to form associations. The King's declaration of a state of emergency must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the lower house of Parliament. If the lower house is not in session, the upper house exercises this power. A state of emergency may be maintained for up to 3 months without legislative approval and up to 6 months, renewable only once for an additional 6 months, if the legislature grants approval.

The Constitution bars the registration and participation in elections of any political party that is based on "religion, community, caste, tribe or region," or that does not operate openly and democratically.

There are no specific laws that restrict women, indigenous people, or minorities from participating in the Government or in political parties. Lingering conservative traditions limit the roles of women and of some castes and tribes in the political process. The Constitution requires that 5 percent of each party's candidates for the House of Representatives must be women. Seven of the 205 members of the lower house of the current Parliament are women. In the upper house, 4 of 60 members are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are a dozen nongovernmental human rights organizations in Nepal. These include the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON), the Informal Sector Services Center (INSEC), and the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED). The Nepal Law Society also monitors human rights abuses and a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) focus on specific areas such as torture, child labor, women's rights, or ethnic minorities. The police regularly loan vehicles to human rights monitors to observe political demonstrations. Human rights organizations contend, however, that the Government sometimes interferes with their operations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution specifies that the state shall not discriminate against citizens on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or ideology. However, there is still a caste system. Discrimination against lower castes and women remains common, especially in the rural areas of western Nepal.

Women

Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common. Little public attention is given to violence against women in the home; the Government makes no special effort to combat it. Rape and incest are also problems, particularly in rural areas.

Trafficking in women and girls remains a deeply ingrained social problem in several of the country's poorest areas. Estimates of the number of girls and women working as prostitutes in India range between 150,000 and 200,000. The best available data suggest that approximately 5,000 to 7,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 18 are abducted into prostitution each year. Prostitution is also a problem in the Kathmandu valley. A children's human rights group in Nepal states that 20 per cent of prostitutes are younger than 16 years old. Economic incentives entice many women to become prostitutes. In many cases, parents or relatives sell women and young girls into sexual slavery. Among the Badini and Devaki of western Nepal, religious prostitution remains a problem.

The Government prosecutes some cases of coercive trafficking but takes few active measures to stop it. The fear of the spread of AIDS by returning prostitutes has discouraged the Government from promoting the rehabilitation of prostitutes.

Government efforts focus more on preventing voluntary prostitution than on rehabilitation or prevention of coercive trafficking. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare sponsors job and skill training programs in several poor districts known for sending prostitutes to India. Several NGO's have similar programs.

Although the Constitution strengthened laws regarding women, including equal pay for equal work, the Government has not taken effective action to implement its provisions. Women have benefited from various changes in marriage and inheritance laws. In 1994 the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional provisions of the Citizenship Law that discriminated against foreign spouses of Nepalese women. However, many discriminatory laws remain. The law grants women the right to divorce, but on narrower grounds than those applicable to men. The law on property rights also favors men in its provisions for inheritance, land tenancy, and the division of family property. In August the Supreme Court ordered the Council of Ministers to enact legislation within a year giving women equal rights consistent with the Constitution.

Women face discrimination, particularly in rural areas, where religious and cultural tradition, lack of education, and ignorance of the law remain severe impediments to their exercise of basic rights such as the right to vote or to hold property in their own names.

According to the 1991 census, the female literacy rate is 26 percent, compared with 57 percent for men. Human rights groups report that girls attend secondary schools at a rate one-half that of boys.

A growing number of women's advocacy groups now take up women's issues, and nearly all political parties have their own women's group. Female members of Parliament have begun working for the passage of tougher laws for crimes of sexual assault, but have had little success so far.

Children

Poverty severely limits the Government's ability to support the care of children. Primary education for children ages 6-12 is free, but many families cannot afford school supplies or clothing. Schools charge fees for further education. Free health is provided through Government clinics, but the clinics are ill equipped and too few in number to meet the demand. Community based health programs assist in the prevention of childhood diseases and provide some measure of primary health care and family planning services. Due to poor or non-existent sanitation in rural areas, many children are at risk from severe and fatal illnesses.

The Child Act of 1992 provides legal protection for children in the workplace and in criminal proceedings. Although it calls for the establishment of child welfare committees and orphanages, the Government has established few such facilities. The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits the employment of minors under 14 years of age, but employers, particularly in the informal sector or agriculture, widely ignore the law.

Children under the age of 16 work in all sectors of the economy. Children's rights groups estimate that up to one-half of children are engaged in income generating activities. As recently as early 1994, the carpet industry employed large numbers of children, an estimated 23,000 or approximately one-third of all workers in the industry. Due to negative publicity in consumer nations, children now account for approximately 5 percent of the carpet industry's labor force, about 6,000 workers (see Section 6.d.). The Ministry of Labor has undertaken no effective initiatives against child labor.

Prostitution and trafficking in young girls remain serious problems (see above).

Approximately 75 innocent children under the age of 12 are incarcerated with their parents because the Government has not established juvenile homes. A young girl incarcerated with her parent reportedly died in prison in January from lack of medical treatment (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.).

People with Disabilities

There are no government programs specifically designed to deal with the problems faced by disabled persons. Nor has legislation been enacted to mandate accessibility to public buildings, or to employment, education, and other state services. Persons who are physically disabled normally rely on family members to assist them.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Nepal has over 75 ethnic groups speaking 50 languages. The Constitution provides that each community "shall have the right to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture." It further specifies that each community has the right to operate schools up to the primary level in its mother tongue.

Discrimination against lower castes is especially common in the rural areas of western Nepal. Although the Government has outlawed the public shunning of "untouchables," an exception was retained for traditional practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic, social, and educational advancement tend to be a function of historical patterns, geographic location and caste. Better education and higher levels of prosperity, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, are slowly reducing caste distinctions and increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic groups. Better educated, urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, and certain elements of the Newar community traditionally dominant in the Kathmandu valley) continue to dominate politics and senior administrative and military positions and to control a disproportionate share of natural resources in their territories.

In remote areas, school lessons and national radio transmissions are often conducted in the local language. However, in areas with nearby municipalities, education at the primary, secondary, and university levels is conducted almost exclusively in Nepali. Human rights groups report that the languages of the small Kusunda, Dura, and Meche communities are nearly extinct, and that non-Hindu peoples are losing their culture.

Section 6 Workers Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the freedom to establish and join unions and associations. It permits restriction of unions only in cases of subversion, sedition, or similar conditions.

Despite the political transformation in 1990, trade unions are still developing their administrative structures to organize workers, bargain collectively, and conduct worker education programs. The prior UML government "automatically" registered its own affiliated unions but interfered in the registration of unions associated with the NCP labor organization.

Union participation in the formal sector is significant, but it accounts for only a small portion of the labor force. In 1992 Parliament passed the Labor Act and the Trade Union Act, and formulated enabling regulations. However, the Government has not yet fully implemented the laws. The Trade Union Act defines procedures for establishing trade unions, associations and federations. It also protects unions and officials from lawsuits arising from any action taken in the discharge of union duties, including collective bargaining.

The law permits strikes, except by employees in essential services. The law empowers the Government to halt a strike or suspend a union's activities if the union disturbs the peace or if it adversely affects the nation's economic interests. Under the Labor Act, 60 percent of a union's membership must vote in favor of a strike in a secret ballot for it to be legal.

The Government does not restrict unions from joining international labor bodies. Several trade federations and union organizations maintain a variety of international affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Act provides for collective bargaining, although the organizational structures to implement the Act's provisions have not been established. Collective bargaining agreements cover an estimated 20 percent of wage earners in the organized sector. However, labor remains widely unable to use collective bargaining effectively due to inexperience and employer reluctance to bargain.

Other than the Trade Union Act, there are no legal provisions prohibiting employers from discriminating against union members or organizers.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits slavery, serfdom, forced labor or traffic in human beings in any form. The Department of Labor enforces laws against forced labor in the small formal sector, but remains unable to enforce the law outside that sector.

Large numbers of women are still forced to work against their will as prostitutes (see Section 5). Bonded labor is a continuing problem, especially in agricultural work. Bonded laborers are usually members of lower castes. Over 25,000 ethnic Tharu families are estimated to be under the "Kamaiya" or bonded labor system in the southern Terai region. The Government has not yet enacted legislation or taken other significant steps to address the issue.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or similar hazardous work. The law also establishes minimum ages for employment of minors at 16 in industry and 14 in agriculture. The Constitution limits children between the ages of 14 and 16 to a 36-hour workweek. Despite the law, child workers are found in all sectors of the economy (see Section 5).

Up to half of all children are engaged in income generating activities, mostly in agriculture. Children constitute only an estimated 5 percent of the employees in the export-oriented carpet industry, down from one-third in early 1994. A consortium of carpet factory owners are moving to establish a certification system for carpets made without child labor (see Section 5). Few or no children work in the garment industry.

The Ministry of Labor's enforcement record is improving. In the urban formal sector, it has had some success in enforcing laws relating to permanency, minimum wage, and holidays. Government inspectors are also increasing their monitoring of use of child labor in carpet factories.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage of $23 (1,150 rupees) for unskilled workers in factories and in the organized labor sector. This wage is sufficient only for the most minimal standard of living. Wages in the unorganized service sector and in agriculture are often as much as 50 percent lower.

The Labor Act calls for a 48-hour workweek, with 1 day off per week, and limits overtime to 20 hours per week. Health and safety standards and other benefits such as a provident fund and maternity benefits are also established in the Act. Implementation of the new Labor Act has been slow, because the Government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce its provisions. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations. Although the law authorizes labor officers to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remains minimal.

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