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Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 10:20 UK

Nepal widows dismiss marriage incentive

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News, Kathmandu

Nepal widow
Widows in Nepal lose their status within the home and society

Widows in Nepal are protesting against a decision by the Nepalese government to offer a cash incentive to men for marrying them.

The incentive was announced in the government's annual budget earlier this week - it is a lump sum of 50,000 Nepali rupees ($641).

Nepal has a large number of widows because of the bloody conflict there in recent years as well as the high rates of HIV and other diseases found in the country.

But human rights groups in Nepal say that paying men to marry widows would only bring further misery.

"It's totally wrong," says Lily Thapa, founder of Women for Human Rights.

"Widows will not be empowered by getting remarried," she says.

Women for Human Rights represents Nepali widows and has officially lodged a protest with the government asking it to rethink its policy.

Ms Thapa says she is encouraged by the government's recognition of the plight of widows but emphasises that this policy could do more harm than good.

Anybody walking on the road could say, look, there's a widow! I could get 50,000 rupees if I married her
Poonam Pathak, widow

She is urging the government to provide social security payments, health care and education to the women, who have a low status in traditional Nepalese society.

'Humiliation'

Widows like 29-year-old Nisha Swar, whose husband was killed by Maoist fighters six years ago, say the policy of offering payment for remarriage could lead to discrimination.

"Men could want to be with us for the sake of getting the 50,000 rupees. It is like putting a price tag on our head and we are very humiliated by this," she says.

Her friend, 30-year-old widow Poonam Pathak, agrees.

"I feel embarrassed because now anybody walking on the road could say, look, there's a widow! I could get 50,000 rupees if I married her," she says.

Widows over the age of 60 years are already given a pension by the Nepalese government.

But Women for Human Rights is calling on the government to extend this payment to all widows.

Lilly Thapa
If you see a widow walking on the street on your way to do some kind of special job, you have to return immediately because it's considered bad luck to see her
Lily Thapa, Women for Human Rights

"Our research indicates that most widows are still young and they need help because they have small children and they need money to pay school fees and take care of them," says Ms Thapa.

Many women in Nepal lost husbands during the country's 10-year conflict, which ended in 2006.

This brought an end to the traditional system of monarchy and propelled Maoist rebels into power.

Campaigners are also asking the government to protect girls who are forced into marriage when they reach puberty, and who are then widowed young by disease or accidents.

Traditional custom

This traditional Hindu practice is common in the low-lying Terai district, close to the border with India.

As soon as a woman becomes a widow in Nepal, she loses her status within the home and society.

She is not allowed to participate in religious ceremonies and can no longer wear red clothing - which is considered auspicious - and jewellery.

In fact, many widows are constricted to only wearing white and often confined to the house, where they have to take on the bulk of domestic duties.

Ms Thapa, who has been campaigning for widows' rights for 14 years, says that having a widow in your home is considered to be a bad omen.

"If you see a widow walking on the street on your way to do some kind of special job, you have to return immediately because it's considered bad luck to see her," she says.

Widows in 52 out of Nepal's 75 districts have sent petitions to their local administrations to ask them to re-think the new policy.

They are demanding that the government consult them first before deciding on how to raise their status.

Officials from the ministry of finance have agreed to meet Ms Thapa and other representatives from women's organisations to discuss the issue.



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