Keep children safe

  • The government needs to keep tab on orphanages and monitor foreign volunteers
Keep children safe

Mar 2, 2015-

On Sunday, the Lalitpur District Court sentenced a Canadian to seven years in jail for molesting an adolescent boy. Seventy-one year old Earnest Fenwick MacIntosh was found guilty of ‘unnatural sex’ with the 15-year-old, who has one arm.MacIntosh used to exploit the boy’s disability to extract sexual favours, cajoling the young fellow with gifts and promises of financial support for a prosthetic arm. For the grievance suffered by the victim, the court also ordered the offender to pay Rs 1 million in compensation.

This case, which made front-page news in most dailies on Monday, highlights two major shortcomings in our rape laws. One is that the current and proposed laws are silent on the rehabilitation for victims of sexual assault. The boy, in this case, already stays at a social service centre, and so the court did not ask for psychosocial counselling and other rehabilitation measures. But most rape victims return to society to face stigma and trauma. The high-level committee formed to propose amendments to laws on gender-based violence had recommended provisions on rehabilitation, but the Criminal Code bill currently in Parliament bypasses the issue. Rape victims can find shelter in government-run rehabilitation centres, but at the time the committee submitted its report in mid-2013, there were 23 such centres. These houses, however, do not provide the necessary psychological and legal counselling. Neither is it clear whether they can provide shelter to young boys, who have been molested and raped.

The rape laws are also blind to the fact that rape of an individual is rape, irrespective of the gender of the rapist and the victim. Both the Muluki Ain and the Criminal Code bill term the rape of a boy or a man ‘unnatural sex’, referring to homosexual acts and assuming falsely that only a man can molest/rape a man or a boy. The other troubling truth that the MacIntosh case has brought to light is rampant ‘voluntourism’, the trend of tourists working as volunteers in orphanages and children’s homes. A foreign national on a tourist visa is not allowed to work, whether paid or unpaid, while in Nepal. But according to the Social Welfare Council, around 30,000 foreigners volunteer at children’s homes every year. What is more worrying is that no one monitors these volunteers, checking their criminal history and tracking their movement once in volunteer service. Had the service centre that allowed in MacIntosh examined his history, they would have known that he had been charged with paedophilia back in 1970s and in 2007.

To keep our children safe, the government should amend the Criminal Code bill to define rape as sexual assault by one individual on another, and to include provisions of rehabilitation for the victims. It should also manage voluntourism, by legalising volunteerism and issuing guidelines to monitor the volunteers. Currently, it seems like a win-win situation for the orphanages and the tourists, with most of them paying to volunteer. But, as the MacIntosh case shows, the children can end up becoming victims of neglect and abuse.

 

Published: 03-03-2015 09:21

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