Nepal became a secular and inclusive democratic republic in 2008. Prior to the movement for democracy in early 2006, the country was officially a Hindu state, and the new constitution as of 2015 retains “secularism”, but places restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

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Constitution and government

In 2015, a new secular constitution was announced, replacing the 1990’s monarchical constitution, following a comprehensive peace agreement between democratic parties and a belligerant Maoist-led party. The interim constitution established Nepal as a secular state, but there was significant social and political debate about what that should mean or whether Nepal should revert to a “Hindu state”. In October 2014, the Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala’s, made a commitment that the new constitution would guarantee freedom of religion or belief.

The new constitution finally came into force in September 2015, establishing that Nepal will remain a secular state, despite significant pressure from Hindu nationalists to revert to a Hindu state.  There were mixed messages about whether religious minorities, in particular Christians, were happy with the move, on the one hand, welcoming the retention of secularism in order to ensure state neutrality, but on the other hand, objecting that the ban on encouraging “religious conversion” was a restriction on specifically religious freedoms.

Article 26 of the current constitution bans any ‘forceful’ religious conversion. There is no legal evidence of forceful religious conversion in any part of Nepal. Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics does not collect census data on population levels of atheism, humanism and the non religious. Therefore, the government is not taking non believers into consideration, in a country where more than half of the 601 parliamentarians are atheist. Recent campaigns by SOCH Nepal (the country’s sole Humanist organisation and a member organisation of IHEU) have been criticised by rightwing political parties such as Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). Ultimately, pro-Hindu rightwing parties are risking the lives of atheists and humanists in Nepal. Interestingly, the current Nepali prime minister, Mr. Puspa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) is favourable to atheism, being the leader of a 10 year Maoist-led movement in Nepal.

Education and children’s rights

Religious groups can establish and run their own schools. Apart from religious schools, the state does not make compulsory religious registration for religious organizations. The Department of Education prepares the curricula for registered religious schools. Some religious organizations have complained however, that registration is in practice required since it is necessary in order to gain land ownership.

Family, community and society

Just over 80% of the Nepalese population is identified as Hindu; the rest made up of Buddhists, Muslims, Kirat, Christians and non-religious. It is estimated that those without any religious affiliation constitute just under 1% of the population (no census data is taken on the non-religious).

Caste-based discrimination is criminalised in Nepal, although it continues to be practiced in society.

The killing of cows is banned throughout Nepal for all people, regardless of their beliefs (it was illegal according to the previous ‘Hindu state’ constitution, although the ‘secular republic’ constitution that followed continued the ban, explaining that the cow is the country’s national animal). Those caught killing cows can be punished with a 12-year prison sentence. In July 2013, six people were sentenced to six years imprisonment for eating cow meat.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of the press, opinion, and expression are guaranteed and direct censorship is explicitly outlawed. Nevertheless, in practice freedom of the press has not been consistently protected.