24th Jun 2017

Anti Witchcraft

The magnitude of gender-based violence in Nepal is extremely high. Among the various forms of violence, witchcraft related violence especially against unprivileged women e.g. widow, poor, helpless is widespread in the country. This has been one of the major hindrances while protecting women’s human rights. In Nepal, violence against women is one of the major factors responsible for the poor health of women, livelihood, insecurity and inadequate social mobilization.

Witchcraft is the worst form of violence against women in Nepal. Various causative factors lie behind such forms of violence against women based on witchcraft. People’s attitude, social behavior, patriarchal mindset, culture, superstitious belief, granted practice/culture etc. are the root causes of witchcraft. Likewise, lack of education/illiteracy and awareness, poverty, legal illiteracy, knowledge on human rights and lack of social protection are the factors that enhance the practice of witchcraft. Another contributing factor is high prevalence of gender inequality in terms of education and rights to property which has perpetrated violence against women.

It is difficult to provide an exact figure of witchcraft related violence but it is estimated that in a year around 100 cases of alleged witchcraft cases come to the public through media and civil society organizations. Very small portion of incidents related to witchcraft come to media and public due to social stigma that women face, lack of awareness and pressure from the perpetrators not to expose the incident. There are many villages in Nepal where there is no reach of media. Therefore, such incidents never come to limelight.

If we compare the problem of witchcraft related violence to other forms of violence against women such as domestic violence or women trafficking, the number might be less but the extent women victims had to suffer is similar or more than that of other violence women had to go through. There are special legislative provisions against women/human trafficking and domestic violence and many governmental and nongovernmental organizations are working in those areas but the problem of witchcraft related violence got less attention and priority from the government and civil society as well. There are no any special legislative provisions against witchcraft related violence in the country and very few governmental and nongovernmental organizations are working in the area of witchcraft related violence.

In the absence of effective legal safeguards, scores of widows and women in rural Nepal accused of practicing witchcraft are being beaten and forcefully fed human excreta and even killed in many instances by superstitious relatives, neighbors and villagers. Media is covering very often the news of beatings or other kinds of inhuman behavior towards women in the name of witchcraft. Allegation of witchcraft and violence related to it is inflicted mostly on the poor, widow, helpless, elderly and destitute women. Their voice does not reach to the proper state mechanism e.g. police, administrative bodies, courts etc. due to lack of knowledge, resources as well as vulnerability. Therefore, acute need is felt to helping victims of witchcraft related violence by providing proper legal services and making their access to justice and also to eradicate the problems related to witchcraft, awareness against these kinds of superstitions among general people need to be raised.

Fact-finding mission: To document cases of human rights violations and violence against women in the name of practicing witchcraft, fact-finding mission is conducted whenever incidents of such violence is reported through media and center’s representatives in the districts. The fact-finding missions independently as well as jointly with other human rights organizations where the incidents of witchcraft allegations took place. The fact-finding team consists of human rights defender, lawyer, psychosocial counselor and journalist. Safety and security of victims, their families and witnesses has always been a prime concern before making the case public. PPR Nepal has documented more than 20 cases of witchcraft related violence.

Legal service: Legal aid is provided to the victims of witch allegations. The victims are provided legal counseling by PPR Nepal’s lawyer. They are informed about registering cases in the court against the perpetrator so that the perpetrator gets appropriate punishments. Legal aid provided by the center has made the victims’ easy access to justice and the legal counseling helped them to be aware about their rights and their commitment to fight against this violence against women. PPR Nepal has provided legal aid to 10 victims of witch craft related violence.

Audio visual documentary: An audio visual documentary is produced. The documentary depicts footage from real incidents of witch hunting and views of experts expressed regarding this severe violence against women. The documentary has views expressed by Member of National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, Member of Nepal Women Commission, women rights activists, representatives of Supreme Court of Nepal and others. The documentary is a medium to aware people about the human rights violation of women in the name of witch hunting. The documentary is titled as SACHETANA: Against the violence based on witch allegation.

Poster: Poster to raise awareness among the people about legal action and the punishment one has to go through if someone alleges other as a witch portrayed through sketches and message in simple Nepali language is prepared. The poster having messages on anti witchcraft and legal provisions is being widely distributed.

On the sport awareness: Awareness raising programs are organized to aware local people about the legal provisions on witchcraft related violence in Nepal and legal procedure to be taken in case such incidents take place. The on the spot awareness help to raise awareness among the locals about non existence of witchcraft, legal action against the perpetrator and compensation the victims could get.

PPR Nepal is a member of WHRIN, the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network. www.whrin.org

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