Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 12:32 GMT
World: South Asia
Nepal's abortion scandal
Min Min Lama: At the centre of calls for reform
By Sue Lloyd-Roberts in Nepal
The women's jail in Kathmandu is a grim place.
The prisoner I had come to see, 16 year-old Min Min Lama, was immediately identifiable among the inmates who were chatting and hanging out the washing in the prison courtyard.
She looks much younger and is extremely pretty.
Taking me by the hand, Min Min Lama took me to a quiet corner of the prison courtyard to tell her story.
She explained that she was 14 when she was raped by a male relation, the brother of her step sister-in-law.
"Later, I told my step sister-in-law what had happened and she said she couldn't believe that her brother would do such a thing."
When the aborted foetus was found in a public toilet, the sister-in-law called the police.
Abortion is illegal in Nepal and the teenager was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
This tiny and fragile girl has become a symbol for those campaigning in Nepal to change the abortion laws.
Nearly 100 women, or a fifth of the female prisoners in Nepal are serving time on abortion-related charges and many of them, like Min Min Lama, have been raped by a male relation.
It was a seven-hour journey from Kathmandu, five of them on foot, to reach Min Min Lama's home and on the way I learned more about her family and the plight of women in Nepal.
Finding the family
There was the local hospital which I stumbled on en route, nearly falling over a woman who was lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the entrance hall awaiting medical attention.
She too had been the victim of an amateur abortionist.
I resumed my trek to Min Min Lama's home.
Furthermore, the new family were afraid that under Nepali property laws, Min Min Lama might inherit some of her mother's estate and so it might be convenient for Min Min Lama to be behind bars.
Min Min Lama's father and stepmother assured me that they loved Min Min Lama but could do nothing to help her as they had no money.
As for my search for the step sister-in-law, they said she wasn't there and sent me away.
But I returned to the house at midnight and, as I suspected, the sister-in-law was there.
The family was humiliated and mortified.
The step sister-in-law admitted to giving Min Min Lama the poison which had caused the abortion and to lying to the police about Min Min Lama's age so that, although she was still a minor, she would be imprisoned.
"OK, I am guilty. I feel guilty, but what good will that do now?", she said.
Min Min Lama's lawyers had been campaigning for her case to be reviewed and they said that the fact that the BBC was in town to film the story and that we had uncovered vital, new testimony helped.
She was beaming from ear to ear as I waved good bye to her through the prison bars.
Two weeks later, Min Min Lama was released.
The plight of the teenager has focused attention on the issue, and might prove the catalyst for change.
There are, however, 99 women facing similar charges who still languish in prison in Nepal today.