Nepal court jails two orphanage workers for raping autistic girls

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A Nepal court has jailed two men who worked at a prominent orphanage in Kathmandu for repeatedly raping three autistic girls in their care, an official said Tuesday.

A judge at the district court in Kathmandu found the two men guilty of rape on Monday evening in a fast-track case that has cast a spotlight on Nepal's massive orphanage industry.

"Justice Pashupati Acharya has sentenced Rabin Shrestha and Rabin Chalise to 16 and a half years of imprisonment each," said court spokesman Shree Prasad Sanjel.

"He also ordered both of them to give 100,000 rupees (S$2,111) as compensation to each of the victims," Sanjel told AFP.

Shrestha, 43, worked as head of adoptions at Bal Mandir orphanage, while Chalise volunteered as a fund-raiser for the institution. The girls, aged 13, 14 and 15, complained to a rights group which alerted police in June to the attacks.

Activist Salina Tamang, 29, whose group Action for Child Rights International pushed the case, said the verdict sent a clear warning to other orphanage employees against wrongdoing.

"We are happy with the court's decision...I believe this verdict can be a lesson for those working at other orphanages in Nepal," she said.

The defendants' lawyer, Ganesh Adhikari, told AFP that he planned to file an appeal at a higher court within a month.

The case underscored the problems facing Nepal's orphanages, some of which have been hit by allegations of sexual abuse, corruption and fraud in recent years.

The impoverished Himalayan nation has 797 orphanages, according to official records, but activists claim the actual figure is much higher, with employees passing off children - whose families are cheated into sending them to the centres for a good education - as orphans in a bid to raise donations from foreigners.

"Many orphanages here are unregulated and unregistered...the government should draw up a serious action plan to monitor these institutions so such incidents are not repeated in the future," Tamang told AFP.

Police in February arrested the owner of Kathmandu's Happy Home orphanage on charges of fraud, kidnapping and torture.

In August 2012 British charity worker Simon Jasper McCarty pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys he met in Kathmandu.