(New York) – The Nepali government should urgently address the widespread torture and ill-treatment of children in police custody, Human Rights Watch said today in a statement marking Nepali Children’s Day on November 20. So far in 2008, Human Rights Watch has received credible claims of more than 200 cases of torture or abuse committed by members of the Nepali police against boys and girls, some as young as 13.
“The Nepali police have a duty to protect children and to prevent crime,” said Bede Sheppard, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division. “Instead, by torturing children in custody they are committing crimes against those they are supposed to be protecting.”
According to a large number of consistent and reliable reports, including first-person testimony from children, the most common methods of torture police use on children include: kicking; fist blows to the body; inserting metal nails under children’s toenails; and hitting the soles of feet, thighs, upper arms, backs of hands, and the back with bamboo sticks and plastic pipes.
Most children abused by the police are suspected of committing petty crimes, or are children living or working on the streets.
“Sometimes, the torture is inflicted to extract confessions from the children,” Sheppard said. “While at other times it appears to be carried out purely for the entertainment of the official.”
Torture is prohibited under Nepal’s Constitution, but is not defined as a crime under the country’s civil code (Nepal’s criminal law is part of its civil code). The torture of children is, however, illegal under article 7 of the Children’s Act, though the maximum penalty is just one year’s imprisonment and a fine.
Human Rights Watch said that despite the widespread nature of abuses against children in police custody, no government official has ever been prosecuted for the torture of children under the Children’s Act.
“It’s unusual to find a country where torture has not at least been recognized as a crime in its basic criminal law,” Sheppard said. “Given the widespread and credible nature of the allegations of torture in police custody, and the fact that the Children’s Act allows the government to prosecute torturers of children, it is also surprising that not a single police officer has been prosecuted for this offense.”
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the conditions children face while in custody. Children are generally not separated from adults while in detention as required under international law, and thus face a greater risk of being assaulted by other prisoners. Children also lack access to adequate medical facilities and legal assistance, and some face long periods – sometimes many days – of arbitrary detention.
One first-person testimony obtained by Human Rights Watch came from a 15-year-old boy who was routinely abused over a period of four days by police officers from three different police stations in Sunsari District in January 2008. The boy, who was arrested on suspicion of being involved in a robbery, explained:
“As I denied their accusations, [two unidentified police personnel] started beating me with a green plastic pipe and a bamboo stick on my hands, legs, and all over my body. Then, they forced me to lie on the floor with my legs on the table and started beating me on my feet. While beating, they asked some questions such as ‘Who was involved in robbery?’ and ‘What are their names?’…. They tortured and interrogated me for about one hour.”
The next day, the same boy was transferred to a different police station, where he said he was again abused:
“Some five or six unidentified police personnel asked me the same questions as [I had been asked the] previous day. As soon as I stated that I was not involved in the robbery, they started beating me with a plastic pipe, a silver pipe, and a bamboo stick all over my body. They even punched and kicked me with their boots. After a while, they placed a pistol on my temple and threatened to shoot me dead in an encounter. Then, they forced me to admit my involvement in the robbery.... They forced me to lie on the floor and one police man put his legs with boots on my chest and another sat on my head and the next police officer started beating me on my feet, legs, and all over my body with sticks. Then, they forced me to jump up and down on the floor for seven to ten minutes and again started beating me. I was beaten and interrogated simultaneously [over a two-hour period].”
Forcing victims to jump up and down is a tactic often used in Nepal to get blood circulating with the intention of lessening the physical evidence of torture.
Human Rights Watch urged the Nepali government to mark Children’s Day by making a clear statement that police torture is absolutely prohibited, and that any police officer involved should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“If the government takes children’s rights seriously, then it should use Children’s Day to condemn police torture of children and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Sheppard said. “Nepal’s government should commit that by next year’s Children’s Day, torture will be a criminal offence, punishable with a proportionate penalty.”