Nepalese proposal to pay men to marry widows sparks fury

Government wants to help women bereaved by 10-year civil war but human rights groups say plan is humiliating

Women’s groups have condemned a Nepalese government plan to pay men for marrying widows, describing it as contrary to human rights law and humiliating for single women.

Under the proposal, contained in the government’s annual budget last week, a lump sum of 50,000 Nepali rupees (£388) would be given to men who marry widows.

The government is hoping to better the condition of women bereaved by a 10-year civil war after more than 12,800 people were killed by either Maoist insurgents or the government in the conflict that ended in 2006. But the plan has sparked a furious response from human rights groups who are campaigning to make sure it does not reach the statute books.

“It is offensive and blinkered,” says Lily Thapa, 39, the founder of Women for Human Rights, single women group (WHR). “The offer turns widows into commodities and paves the way for their further exploitation.”

Thapa, who founded WHR after her husband, an army doctor, died in the Gulf war, has attracted support from women’s groups around the world, including the British group, Widows for Peace through Democracy (WPDP). Its director, Margaret Owen, has written to the British embassy in Nepal urging it to block the proposal.

“Such a law would be contrary to all human rights laws,” said Owen. “The proposed law supports forced marriage, rape, and the view that women are mere chattels.”

Owen said a similar move had been proposed in Sri Lanka, by groups led by men and that Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, propagated such a law to avoid paying pensions to widows of the Iran-Iraq war. Women’s groups say instead of offering monetary incentives for men to marry widows, the government should provide social security payments, health care and education to the women, who are treated as second-class citizens in traditional Nepalese society.

Dama Sharma, a Maoist MP whose husband was killed during the insurgency, says her party also opposed the offer. “What about the children of a widowed woman?” she told the Times of India. “How many men in Nepal are broad minded enough to accept a widow along with her children? Instead of advocating remarriage as a panacea, the state should provide her vocational training and a job so that she can stand on her own feet.”

The government appears to have taken the protests on board and officials from the ministry of finance have agreed to meet Thapa and other representatives from women’s organisations.

“We believe that marriage should be based on love, understanding and commitment between two people but this incentive may encourage people to marry for money’s sake and such marriages are likely to be disastrous,” Thapa said. “The current incentive also implies that widows are helpless and that whoever takes them gets money as a reward”.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/20/nepal-nepalese-women-widows

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