Nepal Court Calls for Guaranteed Rights for "Living Goddesses"

August 19, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: M&C South Asia

The Nepalese Supreme Court has asked the government to guarantee basic child rights to the 'living goddesses,' known as Kumari, who play a key role in the country's Hindu-Buddhist traditions, media reports said Tuesday.

The court's response came after a three-year debate on whether the practice of keeping a child secluded as a living goddess infringed on her rights.

'There is no historic and religious document that says Kumaris should be denied their child rights guaranteed in the [United Nations] Convention on the Rights of the Child,' the Kathmandu Post newspaper quoted the Supreme Court decision as saying.

The Kumaris are part of the culture of the ethnic Newar community, which live in and around the Kathmandu Valley.

'There should be no bar on Kumaris from going to school and enjoying health-related rights,' the Supreme Court said. 'The Kumaris should not be treated as bonded labourers, and restrictions on free movement should not be imposed.'

The court also ordered the government to ensure social security for the former goddesses, who are usually 'retired' at puberty.

Three years ago, child rights activists challenged the practice of choosing Kumari, saying it infringed on the rights of a child to go to school or play with other children while they assumed the role of living goddesses.