The UN Expert on Extreme Poverty on Wednesday told the Human Rights Council that the persistence of social discrimination faced by Dalits in Nepal is the overarching factor explaining the high incidence of poverty among them.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Olivier de Schutter, presented to the Human Rights Council his visit report to Nepal in November-December 2021. Presenting his report during the HRC’s interactive dialogue on Wednesday, he highlighted his concerns about Dalits and their susceptibility to poverty.
During the interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council, de Schutter said that “Discrimination is the single most important factor in explaining why Dalit people are disproportionately affected by poverty.” He pointed out that around 42 per cent of Nepal’s Dalit people live below the poverty line. 43.6 per cent of hill Dalits and 38.2 per cent of Terai Dalits live below the poverty line – far above the national poverty rate of 25.2 per cent.
He said that while the immediate causes of this gap are limited employment opportunities owing to occupation specialisation preventing Dalits from accessing well-paid jobs, as well as lack of access to quality education and land that perpetuates poverty from one generation of Dalit to the next, “the persistence of social discrimination is the overarching factor explaining this situation,” the UN Special Rapporteur said.
During his visit, de Schutter interacted with Dalit people and community groups, government officials and advocacy groups, including the International Dalit Solidarity Network and its national partners Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) and Dalit NGO Federation (DNF), whose staff met the Rapporteur in country and showed him the situation of Dalits on the ground.
Activist speak up
The Human Rights Council’s interactive dialogue was followed by the participation of Dalit activists and IDSN international members. Forum Asia and FEDO delivered an oral statement noting the Rapporteur’s concerns on the continuing practice of debt bondage and bonded labour, which forms part of discriminatory and exclusionary attitudes of the government towards Dalit and indigenous communities.
The statement also highlighted the fact that the authorities had so far failed to enforce the existing law on bondage, the Bonded Labour (Prohibition) Act 2002. The majority of bonded labourers in Nepal come from the country’s Dalit communities. Moreover, lack of access to essential services and denial of basic safeguards against rights violations make it impossible for Dalit people and people from other minority communities to break from intergenerational cycles of poverty and exclusion, they explained.
IDSN, together with its partner ,the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) also delivered an oral statement focusing on the rights of Dalit women and girls who are marginalized and made invisible in Nepalese society.
The two partners’ joint statement highlighted that Nepal, despite having one of the most progressive constitutions in the world on inclusivity, still faces enormous challenges with inclusion of its Dalit communities, especially Dalit women and girls who have long faced many problems including poverty, illiteracy, poor health, malnutrition, early marriage and violence.
The statement presented a survey conducted by the Nepal Women’s Rehabilitation Center in 2020, demonstrating that Dalit women are most subjected to violence, with 18 per cent of a total of 1,673 cases of violence against women and children.
Image: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.