A 16-year-old girl from Nepal has died as a result of the illegal practice of chhaupadi, where menstruating women are forced to stay in huts outside their homes.
Anita Chand, from Baitadi district, in the west of the country, bordering India, is understood to have died on Wednesday from a snake bite while she was sleeping. Her death is the first reported fatality from chhaupadi since 2019 and campaigners fear progress to eliminate the practice is being eroded.
Chhaupadi is based on the centuries-old belief that women and girls are unclean and untouchable during menstruation. They are not allowed to do a range of activities and in some cases are banished to “period huts” for the duration. The practice, which has links to Hinduism, is deeply embedded in western Nepal.
Outlawed in 2005, chhaupadi is punishable by up to three months in prison and a 3,000 Nepali rupee (£20) fine. Baitadi district police have said they are investigating Anita’s death. Her family have denied she was on her period when she died.
“We are working to end this practice but still (have) lots to do,” said Bina Bhatta, vice‑chairperson of Pancheshwar rural municipality in Baitadi.
The last reported death from chhaupadi was in 2019. Parwati Budha Rawat, 21, died after spending three nights in an outdoor hut. Her death was the fifth reported case that year. Women and girls have died from animal attacks and from smoke inhalation after lighting fires in windowless huts. Rawat’s brother-in-law was sentenced to three months in jail.
Her death prompted countrywide programmes and campaigns to end the practice. Thousands of period huts were destroyed, but it appears they are starting to be rebuilt.
“After Parwati’s death, we destroyed more than 7,000 period huts in the area,” said Pashupati Kunwar, who has been campaigning against chhaupadi for 25 years. “People were getting information about menstruation and (the) law.
“Then suddenly Covid came and all focus was shifted to Covid. Then people again started rebuilding period huts or started staying in a shed. There were no programmes and campaigns on chhaupadi after Covid. People almost stopped talking about it.”
Radha Paudel, founder of Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation, said the government in Nepal needed to do more than distribute free sanitary pads to schoolgirls, a service introduced in 2019. She said: “There is a law that criminalised banishing women during their period and also there are policies but the government itself doesn’t implement them.”