Nepal should deliver on social justice promptly, UN Special Rapporteur says

Nepal should deliver on social justice promptly, UN Special Rapporteur says

The visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has called for fulfilling the promises of social justice in Nepal.

“Nepal has succeeded in reducing multidimensional poverty by 12.7 percent between 2014 and 2019, and its Human Development Index has improved, as have indicators related to health and education. But significant gaps remain,” De Schutter said on Thursday after conducting an 11-day official mission to the country.

The UN expert said women are still lagging behind on a number of indicators and despite caste-based and ethnicity-based discriminations being banned, they still remain a reality in social life, which is a major factor explaining the perpetuation of poverty.

In spite of efforts to accelerate the rehabilitation of former bonded laborers and to ensure landless Dalits benefit from land redistribution, land issues remain unresolved, he observed.

Poverty reduction owes more to remittances than to proactive government’s anti-poverty policies, said De Schutter, who had visited Bagmati, Karnali, Lumbini provinces, and Province 2 on his mission.

“A quarter of the decline in poverty can be attributed to outmigration only, with estimates showing that without remittances, poverty would have increased in Nepal,” he said at a press meet organised in Kathmandu on Thursday.

Remittances in Nepal were 10 times larger than foreign aid and 2.5 times larger than total exports only in 2017. “It is clear that much more needs to be done by the government to meet its own target of reducing multidimensional poverty to 11.5 percent by 2023-2024,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur said the government should ensure its skills and training programmes reach the poorest families underlying the fact that public works programmes such as the Prime Minister’s Employment Programme has yet to deliver. The programme was touted as a scheme that would provide 100 days of wage employment to the unemployed.

“In the country, 80 percent of workers are in the informal sector which exposes them to higher rates of abuse, largely because the government lacks the ability to enforce minimum wage legislation in the informal sector,” he said. “Although informal workers should also contribute to and benefit from the Social Security Fund, there is currently no plan to include them in the programme.”

De Schutter’s fact-finding mission began on 29 November, just weeks after the UN General Assembly voted a resolution inviting Nepal, along with Bangladesh and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, to prepare for graduation from the status of Least Developed Country (LDC) to that of an emerging economy by December 2026.

“Graduation from LDC status is a major milestone for Nepal,” said De Schutter. “Poverty reduction must be at the heart of the country’s transition strategy to ensure that no groups are left behind.”

The UN expert met with communities suffering from intersecting forms of deprivation. Most were landless daily wage labourers working in agricultural or informal jobs and struggling to send their children to school. Many were from historically disadvantaged and discriminated groups including Dalit, Madhesi, Indigenous people, and women.

“The stark inequalities resulting from the deeply entrenched norms and values of the Nepali caste system continue to perpetuate disadvantage even today,” De Schutter said.

Women suffer the brunt of a historically patriarchal society, earning almost 30 percent less than men, suffering from higher rates of informality, owning only 19.7 percent of homes and land, and enduring a 17.5 percent literacy gap compared to men, the UN poverty expert noted. “Nepal can and must do better,” he said.

Children experience the worst forms of deprivation because of the poverty their families face, he added. Over one million children work in Nepal, and in rural areas over a fifth of children do.

The Special Rapporteur who met countless families whose children, especially girls, were engaged in agricultural or domestic work said the wealth inequality is a major challenge.

“The government must take child poverty seriously and take the necessary steps to end child marriage and labour, and improve quality of and access to education,” he added.

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