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Nepal Supreme Court bars husbands from divorcing wives for infertility

[JURIST] In a verdict upholding gender equality, the Supreme Court of Nepal [official website] ruled Thursday that men can no longer divorce their wives on grounds of the latter's infertility. A special bench of the court declared a provision in the 43-year old Civil Code relating to husband and wife "ultra vires." The discriminatory provision in the code let men seek divorce if their spouses could not give birth to any children for 10 years since marriage and their partner's infertility was affirmed by a government-recognized medical board.

The bench also ordered the Nepalese government to formulate a non-discriminatory marital law. "The verdict is a step forward towards gender equality," advocate Mira Dhungana, who challenged the provision at the court, commented. Women's rights activists said the verdict is a step forward toward gender equality in this Himalayan Kingdom where patriarchal social system is pervasive. It is not known how many women have become victims of the discriminatory provision. "We do not know the exact number of women who have suffered from the discriminatory provision. But we have received many complaints," said Dhunga, who represents FWLD, an NGO working for justice for women in Nepal.

The gender-biased provision has been in existence since 1963 despite the fact that Nepal's constitution [text] prohibits gender discrimination and Nepal signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [text] in 1979.

Kiran Chapagain is a special correspondent for JURIST writing from Nepal. He is an Assistant Senior Reporter for the Kathmandu Post.

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