Covid-19 Violence Dashboard Shows Nepal’s “Shadow” Pandemic
July 21, 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has subjected Nepal’s healthcare system to unprecedented stress, taking a toll of more than 600,000 infections and 9,000 deaths in less than a year and a half. But the country has also endured another, shadow pandemic, a spike in violence of all kinds—gender-based violence, police brutality, and even violence against healthcare providers—aggravated by the hardships and frustrations of Covid-19, but also caused by the structures and inequities of Nepalese society.
To get a clearer picture of this shadow pandemic and the kinds of policies that could ameliorate it, The Asia Foundation turned to its long-standing partnership with Nepal’s Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP). With Foundation financial and technical support, COCAP was able to adapt its “Nepal Monitor” online violence-monitoring platform, originally launched during Nepal’s long period of civil war, to record and analyze data on Covid-related violence.
The new online dashboard was developed shortly after the government first announced its nationwide lockdown in March 2020, to record incidents and assemble a profile of Covid-related violence. The data is revealing:
- The pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls, in the form of a 2.7 percent increase in gender-based violence during the first wave alone, compared to the last pre-pandemic year.
- Police enforcement of lockdowns led to 187 cases of human rights violations, including 30 incidents involving excessive use of force by police against citizens.
- Public demands for good governance have been frequent during the pandemic. Out of 986 public demonstrations logged by the portal during the pandemic, 56 percent involved demands for better facilities, complaints about poor services at quarantine centers, and other pandemic management issues.
- Prejudice and discrimination related to Covid-19 were the cause of 63 incidents in which healthcare workers became targets of violence or discrimination, including ostracism or stigmatization, verbal abuse, or physical violence.
- Other data points recorded in the portal will allow both state agencies and NGOs to develop a clearer picture of emerging problems and to view, analyze, and track their own efforts to address them.
The distressing increase in conflict and violence at a time when the nation is grappling with a public health crisis has also exposed the flaws in a legal system that fails to protect vulnerable groups. The government has responded by introducing new laws and strengthening old ones, but some areas are still unaddressed. For instance, while the world was honoring frontline workers for their untiring dedication and sacrifice in the fight against the virus, the portal captured cases of stigmatization and physical assault against healthcare professionals. Clearly, better protections for healthcare workers were needed, and the government recently took action by amending the 2010 Security of Health Workers and Health Organizations Act. The changes introduced more severe punishments and zero tolerance for any kind of violence or abuse of healthcare workers or vandalism of hospital property.
The portal also captured episodes of police brutality during the enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions in Nepal, with 70 incidents of violent clashes and assault reported over the period of a year. It was justifiable to deploy armed forces to the streets to make the lockdown stick, but the additional forces came with decreased accountability. Although it has been somewhat veiled by the legitimate excuse of a public health crisis, this arbitrary use of power by the government has violated human rights, diminished the rule of law, and aroused public distrust of the nation’s government, contributing to further conflict between the state and the people. It can be inferred from the data that either existing laws must be more strictly observed or new laws will be needed to interrupt this vicious cycle.
Although Nepal has come a long way in formulating laws to address the epidemic of Covid-related conflict and violence, the real challenge lies in implementation. The country has had domestic-violence laws since 2009, but the rate of violence, rather than falling, has grown by multiples over the years. Gender-based violence was a serious problem in Nepal even before the pandemic. But data collected by the portal from March 2020 to June 2021 shows an alarming increase in cases of gender-based violence, with 1,752 incidents reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault are a disturbing 82 percent. Faced with these rising numbers, the government made changes to existing law. One commendable measure has been to amend the Penal Code chapter on rape. The amendment restricts out-of-court settlements—a hitherto common practice in Nepal that allowed perpetrators to effectively purchase impunity by paying a “settlement” to the rape victim’s family—and imposes penalties of up to three years in prison for those found guilty of attempting these transactions.
Where laws and institutions exist, implementation often still lags. Between March and July 2020, only 4 percent of domestic violence incidents reported to the police were forwarded for prosecution, and data from the Democracy Resource Center shows that 42 percent were sent to mediation, often in violation of the rules prohibiting out-of-court settlements of serious cases. Although the Domestic Violence (Offense and Punishment) Act of 2009 provides that police or local government can conduct reconciliation within 30 days, addressing severe cases of domestic violence through mediation will only perpetuate violence in the future. Data of this nature can identify needed policy reforms.
As governments around the world struggle to manage the pandemic, there is no argument about the use of evidence to untangle knotty policy problems, but the process must begin with reliable data. Nepal Monitor’s Covid-19 violent incidents dashboard is a powerful tool to collect and manage data, interpret it, and share it effectively with decision-makers to manage pandemic-related violence. The data and analytics presented in the portal give decision-makers a solid foundation for policies that address this unique, shadow pandemic in Nepal.
Pranaya Sthapit is a program manager and Aanya Mishra is a program assistant for The Asia Foundation in Nepal. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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