Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nepal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nepal, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4144.html [accessed 1 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 is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. In 1990 the King, formerly an absolute monarch, legalized political parties and an interim government promulgated a new Constitution. The King retains important residual powers but has dissociated himself from the day-to-day excercise of governing. The democratically elected Parliament consists of the House of Representatives and the National Council. A parliamentary election was held on November 15. Observers considered it free and fair. The election resulted in a victory for the United Marxist and Leninist party (UML), which formed a new government.

The national police force maintains internal security, assisted as necessary by the Royal Nepalese Army. Local officials have wide discretion in maintaining law and order. A positive development was police exercise of considerable restraint in handling violent political demonstrations. However, police mistreatment of criminal suspects continued.

Nepal is an extremely poor country, with an annual per capita gross domestic product estimated at around $210. Over 80 percent of its 20 million people support themselves by subsistence agriculture. The export of carpets and garments, along with tourism are the major sources of foreign exchange. Foreign aid covers more than half of the development budget. The Government seeks to liberalize the economy and provide a greater role for the private sector.

Since the beginning of political reform in 1990, Nepal has progressed in its transition to a more open society with greater respect for human rights. However, problems remain. Police continue to torture detainees. The Government's unwillingness to investigate allegations of police brutality or take actions against those involved remaines a serious concern. The Govenment continues to impose some restrictions on freedom of expression, and trafficking in women and child labor remain serious problems. Women and the lower castes also suffer widespread discrimination.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In January an angry crowd attacked police after a police subinspector poured boiling water on a woman shopkeeper in Jhapa. The police fired on the crowd, killing 1 person and wounding 30. The authorities later suspended the subinspector but took no other actions against him or other officers.

The Government refused to investigate police officers responsible for the 1993 killing of more than two dozen persons in leftist-inspired political demonstrations and strikes. However, the Government has compensated the families of some of the victims.

Killings by political groups increased during and after the November 15 general elections. In September several members of the radical leftist United People's Front killed a Nepali Congress Party (NCP) worker on his way to a party meeting in Rukum District. On October 27, unknown assailants killed an NCP worker in Dang District. One week later, eyewitnesses claim that senior NCP workers were among those who shot dead three Communist Party workers marching in a procession toward the NCP's office in Dang District. An NCP worker was shot dead on November 5 in Ilam District; the authorities arrested eight members of the National Democratic Party for the killing. According to unconfirmed reports, the police killed two members of the radical United Peoples Front on November 27, after they fired on the police officers in Rolpa District.

Reported political killings continued after the election. In December the NCP reported that six of its workers were killed in political violence after the formation of the new Government.

b. Disappearance

In June police removed from a Kathmandu hospital a student on a hunger fast in protest over government inaction on pollution; the student has not been seen since. In October the Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, but the police maintained that they were not holding the student. The case remains unsolved. The case of a student activist taken into custody by police in June 1993 also remains unsolved, despite an ongoing inquiry by the Supreme Court.

The Government continues to refuse to publish the report of the Disappearances Commission, a body established to investigate all disappearances in the period from December 1960 to the beginning of the political transformation in 1990. Human rights monitors remain skeptical of the Government's claim that the report's findings do not warrant governmental action. They express concern that persons responsible for disappearances remain in positions of authority.

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 extract confessions. The Government failed to conduct thorough and independent investigations of reports of police brutality, nor did it 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.

Charges of cruel treatment by police continued in 1994. During periods of political unrest in the spring and summer, the police reportedly abused several persons arrested at leftist-sponsored political protests. However, there were several clear incidents of torture. Police in Patan headquarters kicked and beat on the soles of the feet a foreigner arrested in January for drug trafficking. Several policemen held a stick across his thighs and jumped on it repeatedly, causing temporary paralysis. Police denied that any such abuse occurred, but a doctor examined the man and judged that his allegations were credible.

In January a group of policemen beat the hand and leg joints of a man from Bara who filed a complaint against a police officer who allegedly had had an affair with the man's mother. In response, an angry crowd gathered outside the station. The police opened fire and wounded six persons. The authorities transferred the police officer involved in the affair but took no other action. In October the authorities arrested a man in Ilam District and charged him with illegally cutting wood. To extract a confession, forest guards reportedly beat the man, inserted pins under his fingernails, and beat the soles of his feet. The man was released from custody after a court found him not guilty.

The authorities continued to harass Tibetan asylum seekers who tried to cross the border from China. In February security forces badly beat a Tibetan apprehended crossing the border near Kodari. Approximately a dozen soldiers repeatedly kicked the man in the face and beat him with rifle butts, which resulted in temporary blindness and the loss of several teeth (see Section 2.d.).

Political groups also engaged in physical abuse. Shopkeepers and bus drivers were stoned and beaten by members of leftist opposition parties after they refused to honor nationwide strikes.

Overcrowding is common in prisons and authorities sometimes handcuff or fetter detainees. Women are incarcerated separately from men, in equally poor 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. In May the Jail Management Department reported that 83 children below the age of 12 years were in prison.

There has been improvement in prison conditions. The authorities are more likely to transfer sick prisoners to hospitals than they were in the past. However, because of the inadequacy of medical facilities in the country, the authorities often place the mentally ill in jails under inhumane conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that a suspect must be arraigned or released 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 detention, the police are authorized up to 25 days, with a possible 7-day extension, to complete their investigation. The Supreme Court on occasion has ordered the release of detainees held longer than 24 hours without a court appearance. Detainees do not have the legal right to be visited by family members and are permitted access to lawyers only after the authorities file charges. Instead, the granting of access is haphazard and varies from prison to prison. There is a system of bail, but bail is 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 detained under the Act are considered in preventive detention and are not brought to trial. In 1994 the authorities used the Act primarily to detain groups of youths and mob leaders in advance of scheduled demonstrations. They released most detainees within 48 hours.

Human rights groups report that supporters of the leftist parties are sometimes arrested and detained arbitrarily and subjected to unwarranted criminal investigations because of their political affiliation. Under the 1991 amendments to the Public Security Act, the police are authorized to extend periods of detention after submitting written notices to the Home Ministry. The district court must be notified of a detention within 24 hours and may order an additional 6 months of detention before official charges must be filed.

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 75 districts. Under the Act, he is authorized to order detentions, issue search warrants, and specify fines and other punishments for misdemeanors without judicial review. Detainees may appeal the decisions of the CDO's.

The Constitution prohibits exile, and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The King appoints the judges on recommendations from the Judicial Council, a constitutional body chaired by the Chief Justice. The Council is also responsible for the assignments 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 or suspend, commute, or remit any sentence.

The Supreme Court has increasingly demonstrated its independence. It has ruled that important provisions in the 1992 Labor Act and the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act are unconstitutional. Appellate and district courts have become increasingly independent, although they sometimes bend to political pressure.

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

The authorities may prosecute terrorism or treason cases under the Treason Act. Such trials are closed and are heard by specially constituted tribunals. However, there were no such trials in 1994.

There is no credible evidence that the Government holds political prisoners.

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

The Government generally respects the privacy of the home and family. Search warrants are required before search and seizure, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations. Under the Police Act of 1955, as amended, the police are authorized to issue warrants for search and seizure. Such warrants must be approved within 24 hours by the Chief District Officer in misdemeanor cases and court judges 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 no news article or any other reading material shall be censored. Nevertheless, the Constitution prohibits speech and writings that would threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom; disturb the harmonious relations among people of different castes or communities; promote sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or instigation to commit crime; or 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, inter alia, promotes disrespect toward the King or royal family or undermines the dignity of the King, the integrity and sovereignty of the Kingdom, and security, peace, and order; creates animosity among the different castes amd religions; or adversely affects the good conduct or morality of the public. In 1992 the Government issued regulations amending the Act which established requirements for education and work experience to hold particular jobs in journalism. The regulations also provide a basis for banning foreign publications.

There are scores, if not hundreds, of independent newspapers representing points of view across the political spectrum. The two dailies with the largest circulation are government sponsored. Their editors generally reflect government policy, but they occasionally publish articles critical of the Government and recommend alternative policies. The Ministry of Communication occasionally provides editors with guidance. The Government subsidizes newsprint materials to allow un-profitable papers to stay in business.

The Government owns and controls the sole radio and television stations. Programming currently reflects a broader range of interests and political viewpoints than before the beginning of 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. The Broadcast Act of 1993 allows private parties to broadcast television and FM radio. No private FM radio license was granted in 1994 although an application has been pending for months. Two private television cable services began operations in Kathmandu in 1994, carrying foreign entertainment programs only.

The Government limits academic freedom to the same parameters as the media. No overt efforts to enforce these limitations were reported in 1994.

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 arrests or detentions for exercising these freedoms in 1994. However, hundreds of persons were arrested before and during violent strikes and demonstrations organized by leftist parties. Protest leaders from radical leftist groups were placed in preventive detention before scheduled demonstrations on a number of occasions. Most were released after the demonstrations finished.

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. The Government has not interfered with the practice of other religions. There is concern among non-Hindus, however, that a constitutional prohibition against converting another person could be used to limit expression of religious beliefs. The authorities arrested 11 Christians in Ilam District in October for proselytizing near the entrance of a Hindu temple and blocking public access.

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 foreign residents, such as Tibetan refugees. The Government allows citizens abroad to return home and is not known to revoke citizenship for political reasons.

The Government has no official refugee policy and is not party to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, in the past, the Government accepted and assimilated approximately 18,000 Tibetan refugees who still reside in Nepal. In the mid-1970's, the Government ceased issuing identification cards to over 12,000 Tibetan residents. They do not have legal proof that they live in Nepal. Some of these undocumented residents who wished to travel abroad in 1994 faced difficulties from authorities. 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 both China and Bhutan.

The Governments of Nepal and China tightened movement across their border in 1986, but both sides observe such restrictions haphazardly. The authorities continued to harass Tibetan asylum seekers who tried to cross the border with China. In some cases, border officials demand bribes from would-be refugees (see Section 1.c.). In some instances fighting has occurred between would-be refugees and the police.

In August the police fired on a group of 10 Tibetans who crossed the border in the Humla District, injuring 3 persons. One man was wounded by gunfire below the knee and his leg was later amputated. The police claim that they were forced to open fire after the Tibetans attacked them and grabbed their weapons in an attempt to escape The Tibetans claim that the police attempted to rob them.

As in previous years, the Government continued to use force to repatriate Tibetans to China against their will. Reliable information is unobtainable, but some reports suggest the problem increased in 1994.

Ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan continued to arrive in 1994 (see the report on Bhutan). At year's end, the camps in southeastern Nepal housed 86,000 refugees, with another 15,000 to 20,000 residing outside the camps. These residents represent over one-sixth of Bhutan's estimated population before the exodus.

The UNHCR monitors the condition of the Bhutanese refugees and provides assistance for their basic needs. The Government accepts the refugee presence on humanitarian grounds but is able to offer 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. Conditions are actually somewhat better than those found in nearby areas. Consequently violence has sometimes broken out between camp residents and the local population. Relief organizations working in the camps sometimes distribute token relief supplies to local communities to defuse the situation.

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 their future repatriation to Bhutan. However, four rounds of talks have led to little concrete progress.

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

After a parliamentary defeat in July, the Prime Minister requested the dissolution of Parliament and called for new elections. The second parliamentary election in three decades was held on November 15. Citizens exercised their right to change their government by voting out the NCP and returning the UML party to power. Although there were some irregularities, observers concluded that overall the elections were free and fair. The UML won 88 seats, the NCP 83, the National Democratic Party 20, the Nepali Workers and Peasants Party 4, and Sadbhavana Party 3, and independents 7. The King invited the UML to form a new government in November.

The people, through their elected representatives, have the right to amend the Constitution with the exception of certain basic principles which they may not changed--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, or loses a vote of no confidence, or if it calls for elections. Suffrage is universal to all citizens of age 18 and over.

The House of Representatives, the lower house, may send legislation directly to the King by a 50-percent vote. The upper house, or the National Council, may amend or reject lower house legislation--although it may 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 powers 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 the right to form associations and of habeas corpus. 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 maintined for up to 3 months without legislative approval and up to 6 months, renewable only once for an additional 6 months, if legislative approval is granted.

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

There are no specific laws that restrict indigenous peoples, women, or minorities from participating in the Government or political parties, but lingering conservative traditions limit the influence of women and some castes and tribes in the political process. The Constitution requires that each registered party must nominate at least 5 percent of its candidates for the House of Representatives. Women constituted 5 percent of party candidates in the November election. Seven of 250 Members of Parliament 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, including the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON) and the Informal Sector Services Center (INSEC). The Nepal Law Society also monitors human rights problems, and a number of single-issue nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) focus on specific problem areas such as torture, child labor, women's rights, or ethnic minorities.

The police regularly lend vehicles to human rights monitors to observe political demonstrations. However, human rights organizations contend that at times the Government interferes with their operations. For example, in May government personnel entered and inspected the offices of the Kathmandu chapter of Amnesty International. The authorities claimed that they carried out a survey of the office in accordance with administrative norms, but several human rights groups maintained that a warrant was required for such a survey and organized a protest march.

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 a caste system. Discrimination against lower castes and women is common, especially in the rural areas of western Nepal.

Women

Although the Constitution strengthened provisions regarding women, including equal pay for equal work, the Government has not taken effective action to implement this provision. 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 laws remain discriminatory. 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 a number of ways, including the division of family property, inheritance, and land tenancy.

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 hold property in their own names.

According to the 1991 census, the literacy rate among females is 26 percent, compared with 57 percent among males. Human rights groups report that girls attend secondary schools at a rate half that of boys.

Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common. Little public attention is given to violence against women in the home and the Government made no special efforts to combat it.

Trafficking in women is a deeply ingrained social problem in several of the poorest areas. Estimates of the number of Nepalese girls and women working as prostitutes in India range between 150,000 to 200,000, although prostitution in the Kathmandu Valley is also a problem. A children's human rights group states that 20 percent of the prostitutes are younger than 16 years old. Women and girls are usually coerced into prostitution, but the extent of coercion is difficult to determine. Newspapers occasionally report the arrest of those attempting to abduct young women or dupe them into going to India. Economic incentives entice many other women. In many cases, parents or relatives sell women and young girls into sexual slavery. Among the Badini and Devaki of western Nepal, religious prostitution is a continuing problem.

The Government prosecutes some cases of coercive trafficking but takes few measures to stop it. The spread of the acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in India's red-light districts has discouraged the Government from promoting the return and rehabilitation of Nepalese 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.

There is a growing number of women's advocacy groups, and nearly all political parties have their own women's groups. 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

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, few such facilities have been established. The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits employment of minors under 14 years of age, but employees widely ignored the law.

Children under the age of 16 work in all sectors of the economy. Children's rights groups estimate that up to half of Nepal's children are engaged in income-generating activities. At the beginning of 1994, child labor in the carpet industry was prevalent, but the problem lessened by year's end. Government officials and carpet manufacturers concerned about negative publicity moved to eliminate child labor and some factories are establishing schools to retrain child laborers (see Section 6.d.).

Prostitution and trafficking in young girls are serious problems (see Section 5.).

Approximately 80 innocent children under the age of 12 are incarcerated with their parents because the Government has not established juvenile homes (see Section l.c.).

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 public shunning of "untouchables" has been outlawed, an exception was retained for traditional practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic, social, and educational advancement tend to be a function of historical patterns, geographical location, and caste. The spread of education and higher levels of prosperity, especially in the Kathmandu valley, are slowly reducing caste distinctions and increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic groups. Although higher and better educated urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, and certain elements of the Newar community) continue to dominate in politics and senior administrative and military positions, the representation of other castes and ethnic groups is slowly increasing.

The Government has moved slowly in establishing programs for ethnic minorities and has not enacted any legislation to safeguard their rights. Most government officials are Brahmin, Chhetri, or Newar. Other groups or castes not in the governing elite are unable to participate fully in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation 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 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.

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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the freedom to establish and join unions and associations. It permits restrictions of unions only in cases of subversion, sedition, or similar conditions. Following the beginning of the political transformation in 1990, trade unions are still developing their adminstrative structures to organize workers, bargain collectively, and conduct worker education programs. Although trade unions were initially associated with political parties, they are becoming increasingly independent.

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

The law permits strikes, except by employees in "essential services" such as water supply, electricity, and telecommunications. The Government is empowered to halt a strike or suspend a union's activities if the union disturbs the peace or adversely affects the nation's economic interests. Under the Labor Act, a legal strike must be approved by 60 percent of a union's membership in a vote by secret ballot. However, several illegal strikes took place in 1994, especially to protest retrenchment in public enterprises under the Government's administrative reform program. Most received little publicity and were ineffective.

Even though implementing legislation is not yet in place, some unions are moving ahead quickly. The Nepal Trade Union Congress, a national federation representing nearly 200,000 members, held its first national convention in February.

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 (e.g., labor courts) to implement the Act's provisions have not been established, collective bargaining has been the primary mechanism for setting wages since April 1990. An estimated 20 percent of wage earners in the organized sector are covered by agreements. Other than the Trade Union Act, there are no legal provisions prohibiting discrimination against union members or organizers by employers. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Large numbers of women are forced to work against their wills 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 Terai region. The Government has not yet enacted legislation or taken other significant steps to address the problem.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or similar hazardous places. The law establishes a minimum age for employment of minors at 16 in industry and 14 in agriculture. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 are limited 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 Nepal's children are engaged in income generating activities, mostly in agriculture. At the beginning of 1994, children constituted as much as one-third of the workers in the export-oriented carpet industry. This figure dropped to about 5 percent at year's end after negative publicity prompted the Government and manufacturers to move to eliminate child labor in carpet factories. The Government is working with the carpet industry to establish a certification for carpets made without child labor.

The Department 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 the abuse of child labor in carpet factories.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage of $23 (1,150 rupees) in factories and in the organized labor sector. This wage is sufficient only for the most minimal standard of living. Rates in the unorganized service sector and in agriculture are often as much as 50 percent lower. The International Labor Organization has noted that the Government has undertaken an effort to ensure that female workers receive equal pay for equal work.

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, as the Government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce its provisions. Workers do not have the right remove themselves from dangerous work situations. Although labor officers are authorized to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards has been minimal.

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