Nepalese woman, two sons die of suffocation in 'menstrual shed'

Thursday 17th January 2019 01:30 EST

Kathmandu: A woman and her two sons died of suffocation in a remote Nepalese town after being banished to a windowless shed during the woman's menstruation. The mother, identified as 35-year-old Amba Bohora, and her two sons aged nine and 12, were found wrapped together in a blanket in the morning and were believed to have died from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to escape cold, said Bajura district administrator Chetraj Baral.

"They died of suffocation because there was no ventilation and they had made the chamber airtight to beat the cold," police official Uddhav Singh Bhat said. "We pulled out their bodies with burned limbs." Bohora had been banished to the "menstruation hut" in temperatures well below zero in a practice known locally as chhaupadi. The tradition considers menstruating women and those who have just given birth to be unclean and bringers of bad luck. They are not permitted to enter the home, touch anyone, or eat certain foods, including fruit, vegetables and milk products during this time. The practice also dictates that mothers should give birth without assistance, adding to the region's already high maternal mortality rate.

The isolated huts make women vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, animal attacks, deadly environmental hazards and sexual violence. Baral said an investigation had started and he was consulting with government lawyers on whether to press charges against the family, who live in Budhinanda, about 400 km from capital Kathmandu.

The fight to end menstrual stigma

In August 2017, the enforcement of chhaupadi practices became a criminal offence, punishable by a three-month jail sentence and a fine. But a spokesperson for international right's group Restless Development, who work to empower youth in Nepal, said real change could only come from within the community. Clara Garcia Ort├ęs, founder and chief executive of Be Artsy - a group fighting to change menstrual stigma - said around 90 per cent of women in the hill districts of western Nepal still practiced chhaupadi. "The law is not enforced," she said. "Nobody is doing anything because women are not really forced to stay outside. A lot of women feel that they are really impure."

caption--A 14-year-old girl sits inside a chhaupadi hut in the hills of Legudsen village

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