Child rape victim betrayed in Nepal
After she was raped Radhika (name changed) sought support from village elders. It is hard to comprehend the decision that the elders took, supporting the rapist rather than the victim.
At the end of last month 15 year old Radhika felt very happy as she was returning home from a marriage ceremony. It had been a lovely celebration. In life, she had a great deal to look forward to, having just completed her grade 10 examinations. But as she was about to enter her house she was grabbed by a man who dragged her off to a nearby field. Stifling her cries for help with her shawl, he raped her three times. No one heard the commotion as others had gone to the wedding too. It was only when Radhika’s eleven year old brother came looking for her that her assailant ran off. Radhika’s parents were away at the time as her mother was having an operation. So for five days she didn’t have their support and was too frightened to tell anyone what had happened. Eventually she confided in an aunt.
After his return, the girl’s father appealed for justice to the all-male “panchayat“, the village assembly. After three days the panchayat ruled unanimously that Radhika should marry her attacker. The committee members reasoned that there was no alternative as no one else would want to marry a rape victim and, conveniently, both victim and assailant were single. Worse still, Radhika’s father would have to pay her attacker a dowry of 300,000 rupees (£2,000), negotiated down by her father from an original suggestion of 500,000 rupees. The father felt that he had no alternative but to comply with the ruling for fear of being thrown out of the village.
Radhika’s family are not well-off – her father sells cosmetics from a roadside stall. He asked his neighbours for a loan but few would help him. In the end he had to sell his land to raise the dowry. A date of 12th May was set for the wedding with the father due to pay the rapist four days beforehand. However when he went to the rapist’s home he found that both he and his father had gone missing. At this point he did what he should have done in the first place and went to the police, filing a formal complaint against his daughter’s attacker. He also contacted the local media, telling them “I have been belittled by everyone because I am poor. They didn’t allow me to make decisions and I had to agree to what they said. But now I will not tolerate this and I will fight for my daughter’s rights. I need everyone’s help in this.”
In this case, “everyone” has included ChoraChori in Nepal. As it is too dangerous for Radhika to remain in her own village (witnesses to crime can go missing), we have admitted her to our refuge in Kathmandu where she is receiving support through our child trauma management centre. We will do all that we can to track down her assailant and bring him to justice. The panchayat has realised its mistake in that it should not have ruled on a criminal case and has promised to support us in finding the attacker. Meantime Radhika can stay with us for as long as is necessary and we will ensure that she has a chance to complete her education.
Radhika is the third child rape victim that we have admitted to our refuge in the past three weeks. We are investigating the circumstances of nine other cases, one of whom is an eight month old baby. Last week a ChoraChori field team successfully disrupted a child marriage ceremony that was being rushed through with an £800 dowry. And the next day directed the police to arrest another child rapist who had returned from India, thinking it was safe to do so.
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