Napalese Supreme asks for more rights for “Kumari”

August 19th, 2008 - 12:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 19 (DPA) 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.

Last year, one of the Kumaris of the Kathmandu Valley was sacked and replaced by another girl after she travelled to the US to promote a documentary on her life.

Religious leaders had then argued that an incumbent living goddess was forbidden to travel to a foreign country.

Kumari literally means a virgin. A young girl from the Buddhist community is chosen to represent a Hindu goddess after she passes 32 tests of “perfection,” which include a body like a banyan tree and golden, tender skin that has never been scratched or shed a drop of blood.

Each of the Kathmandu Valley’s three cities - Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan - have their own Kumaris. The Buddhists worship her as representing Bajradevi and the Hindus as a reincarnation of the goddess Kali.

Until two years ago, the Nepalese monarch received blessings from the royal Kumari of Kathmandu, giving him the authority to rule the country. However, the king was replaced by the prime minister in that role last year before Nepal’s constitution-drafting constituent assembly abolished the monarchy in May.

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