Whither conjugal rights of prisoners?


An inmate couple could finally spend the night together following the April 2011 Supreme Court verdict that put the seal on their conjugal rights in jail. At a time when the country hasn’t still started weighing in the issue of conjugal rights, Suraja Marik Dom and Chotani Devi Marik Dom might be ahead of the pack and are probably among the luckiest couples.

The duo is doing time in Saptari Jail. It is still rare to see both husband and wife being sent to prison together. When the Dom couple had to struggle for long to make love despite languishing in the same jail, it might be next to impossible for thousands of other Nepali jailbirds whose married partners are outside bars.

Sunil Tamang, a jailbird serving sentence in the Capital’s Central Jail, had to do something extraordinary to fulfil his sexual instincts. On December 6, he had to bribe some policemen at the prison and had them take him to a Bagbazaar-based hotel, where he would be given a chance to mate with a sex worker.

As this global problem prevails in the prisons across the country, the government is yet to implement the April 2011 verdict of the apex court, which was brought to light by the Dom couple. The historic verdict had directed the government to ensure conjugal rights in line with the Article 20 (2) of the Interim Constitution, which guarantees every individual’s reproductive rights.

According to Sambhu Koirala, director general of the Department of Prison Management, the verdict itself is not sufficient to ensure the conjugal rights of prisoners. “The verdict is historical. Before implementing it, we need to first make major amendments to the existing Prison Acts and Regulations. We can create a favourable environment for conjugal mating among couples only after amending the existing laws,” he said. According to Koirala, nothing has been done so far to that effect.

Homnath Thapaliya, jailer of the Central Jail, has a different story to tell. “Situations are such that we are housing the size of prisoners disproportionate to the capacity of our prisons,” he said. “At a time when we cannot add one more room to accommodate the increasing number of prisoners, the issue of conjugal rights may head nowhere. A massive structural change has to be brought in place before trying to implement the conjugal rights of prisoners.” Thapaliya’s statement carries weight as the Sundhara-based Central Jail is a home to over 1,400 prisoners at present against its capacity of 800 maximum.

“While many are still against conjugal rights, I personally believe that we have to ensure this with a clear definition of specific circumstances under which sex can be allowed inside prison,” he said. “If a wife of a childless prisoner is outside the jail and she is about to cross 45 years of age, after which she will not be able to conceive, the authorities have to pave the way for the couple’s mating.”

Countries like the UK, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Scandinavia, Israel and some states of the US have a special system that allows a married couple to have conjugal visits on a regular basis. Prisoners are even allowed to take sex workers and prostitutes to prison to fulfil their sexual thirst in a fixed span of time. Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 individuals last year, had demanded three facilities in prison—access to internet, video games and sexual intercourse. In response, authorities fulfiled his demand for video games and sex.

Advocates are concerned about the plight of sex-starved inmates. “There are many who claim imprisonment is just synonymous to punishment and rule out granting sexual freedom to prisoners. But I believe punishment should not be absolute. Sexual freedom, which is about fulfiling natural desires, has to be ensured under specific circumstances,” said advocate Semanta Dahal. “We need to coin a new definition of imprisonment to make jails rehab centres, not the punishment houses,” he said.

Posted on: 2012-12-27 08:29