Moratorium on abortion: ethnic minorities in Nepal at risk of extinction
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Some Nepalese ethnic minorities at risk of extinction are asking the government for a moratorium on abortion. These are the three ethnic groups known as the Chepang, the Raute, and the Dom, a total of about 100,000 out of an overall population of 26 million. Mostly nomads, the Dom live in the area of Terai in southern Nepal, in the districts of Siraha, Sarlahi, and Mahottari. The other two groups, the Chepang and the Raute, live in remote areas of the country, usually near the forests. Until a few years ago, their main occupation was hunting, and they stayed away from urban areas.
The guerrilla warfare unleashed by the Maoists against the monarchy has put their way of life in danger. The traditions of the minorities are also gradually dying out because of globalisation. The current hopes for a "new Nepal" [editor's note: after the fall of the monarchy, a constitutional assembly is expected to be convened] are accompanied by requests from the ethnic groups, which are speaking out and asking the government to preserve their culture and protect their rights. For this, they say, a moratorium on abortion is necessary.
The government passed a law on abortion two years ago, permitting the interruption of pregnancy in the case of sexual violence and when conception takes place without the agreement of both partners.
The campaign against abortion is being carried out by Raja Ram, of the Raute ethnic group, from the area of Rasuwa, where the population has rejected abortion facilities and procedures. The Raute leader tells AsiaNews, "The government is ignoring us because of our poor population. But we believe that any kind of abortion, including gender selective abortion, is a crime, at least for thess minority groups. Therefore, the government should not legalise abortion law, at least in our community".
Modana, of the Dom ethnic group in Saptari, adds: "Our patrimony is our population. The number of children in a family is the gifts of God's blessing. The greater the family size, the better culture and income we have. This is why we have to fight against abortion".
The mortality rate of women in Nepal is very high because of illegal abortions. Sudha Sarma, the doctor who directs the maternity ward at a Kathmandu hospital, says "We can do nothing on this law. But more are dying because of illegal and selective abortion".
The United Nations has guaranteed the protection of minorities, and the spokesman of the UN human rights office in Nepal, Richard Bennet, confirms this support: "We support the human rights and cultural rights of the minority ethnic groups. So we advise the government to avoid all kinds of illegal abortion and take action against them. We also believe that illegal abortion is crime".