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Nepal Looks to a Porn Ban to Stem Violence Against Women

 
 

By the first week of October, Nepal’s government had banned around 24,000 porn sites, aiming to curb rising rates of rape in the Himalayan nation. The move comes after the failure of the authorities in tackling rape cases amid a broad public uproar.

The recent rape and murder case of Nirmala Pant has put the government in a grave situation. The 13-year-old’s body was found on July 27 around 9 a.m. in Bhimdutta Nagar-2, Kanchanpur. After months of speculation and despair, the probe committee came to the conclusion that the police were reckless and negligent in not securing evidence from the victim’s body. Nirmala’s trousers and body were washed immediately when she was found lying on a sugar cane field. This event has pushed the general public into adopting the view that the government and those in power cannot protect them or ensure justice; instead, they only try to put out fires by doing things like banning porn sites.

Ujjwal Acharya, the South Asia coordinator of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), says, “The decision to ban pornographic materials on the internet is problematic because it was done in haste, without proper analysis of the situation and without any transparency, to dilute the issue of increasing rape cases, as there was widespread public anger towards the state’s ineffectiveness to stop such crimes or nab the culprits.”

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In an interview with Republica, Harihar Wasti, chief consultant at the Forensic Medicine Department, talked about the Nirmala case: “The police lab is much more advanced than the one we have in Khumaltar. So they may have tested it in [a] police lab. The lab at Khumaltar has not been updated much. Khumaltar does tests… identifying the parents. Most tests related to crimes are done in Nepal Police Lab.” This revelation also suggests that the police can be influenced by those in power and interfere in the cases like of Nirmala. Hence, it is understandable why Nepalis are frustrated with the government’s lackadaisical approach to rape cases. But can banning porn really avert rape?

This is where the public is divided in Nepal. While some have lauded the move, others just point out what they see as the government’s sly move. Even academics and psychologists continue to debate if porn has any adverse effects on people. However, some studies have suggested that pornography can have adverse effects on children’s mental health and lead to the development of sexist attitudes, objectification, sexual aggression, violence, child sexual abuse, and can negatively shape sexual behaviors.

Acharya, however, sees the porn ban as problematic for internet freedom in the name of curbing sexual violence. He says, “The blanket ban is problematic because there is no transparency in the process; such a ban will not work in this era of technology; pornography (and internet) was blamed for sexual violence without proper evidence; it may hamper people’s rights to access to legitimate sexual contents; and there is a higher scope of such direction to be misused by banning legitimate websites.”

But activists like Nigam Khanal disagree that porn has no role in perpetuating violence against women. Feminists in Nepal have expressed their satisfaction on the porn ban. Khanal says, “Nepal is officially a porn free country now.” She adds that “It is a historic moment because the government recognizes the link between pornography and sexual violence against women and girls. This is a landmark victory for Nepali women and girls.”

Nepal suffers from other, larger problems at the moment. Reports say that around 50 Nepali girls are trafficked to India every day. Rape cases have, in the meantime, seen a 300 percent increase in a decade. Politicians, police, and the forensic departments are under scrutiny by the general public. The narrative that those in power and state authorities are out to protect their own at the expense of the victims is being constructed. This perception among the public can become expensive to the incumbent communist government. The ruling party is already seeing friction among its leaders as the nation struggles with the widespread rape crisis. Can the porn ban alone really ensure Nepali women are protected against such abuses? The government should know better.

The porn industry is a lucrative business for several countries and a scourge for developing nations like Nepal. While the Nepal government is trying to divert the attention of the public from continuously criticizing the inefficiency of the local authorities, the common people are venting their ire publicly, and this is not a good sign for the communist government that rode high on its ambitions. In the next elections, the government will have to find answers to satisfy voters.

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