Nepal became a secular and inclusive democratic republic in 2008. Prior to a civil war between Maoist rebels and the government in 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 belligerent 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 its ban on encouraging “religious conversion” was a restriction on specifically religious freedoms. This has been evident in recent criminal cases such as in June 2016 where 8 Nepali Christians were charged with attempting to convert children through the distribution of a ‘religiously themed’ comic book.

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Ban on religious conversion

Religious conversion is further criminalised in Nepal under the ‘Bill designed to amend and integrate prevalent laws relating to Criminal Offence’ signed into law on 18 October 2017 by Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Clause 160 section 9 of the Bill states that:

“Nobody should indulge in any act or conduct so as to undermine the religion, faith or belief that any caste, ethnic group or community has been observing since sanatan (eternal) times or to jeopardise it with or without any incitement to convert to any other religion, or preach such religion or faith with any such intention.”

Offending under this clause is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years as well as a monetary fine of up to fifty thousand rupees.

The ‘hurting of religious sentiment’ is also banned through Clause 158 section 9 of the same Bill.

<http://www.csw.org.uk/2017/08/21/press/3676/article.htm><http://www.csw.org.uk/2017/10/20/news/3762/article.htm>

 

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 members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).  Recent campaigns by Society for Humanism Nepal (the country’s sole Humanist organization and a member organization of IHEU) have been criticised by right wing political parties such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP).

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, however, some religious organizations have complained 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.
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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.