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Girls In Nepal Are Being Banished To A Shed When They Have Their Periods And It's Killing Them

This week marked the second known Chhaupadi-related death in Nepal this year. The practice is supposed to be illegal, but it's far from extinct.

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A 15-year-old girl in Nepal died this week after she was forced by her family to stay in a hut while menstruating.

Prakash Mathema / AFP / Getty Images

Roshani Tiruwa was found dead on the floor of her family’s chhaupadi hut on Sunday morning. According to local police, the high school student most likely suffocated while attempting to light a fire to stay warm during the night.

A photo of her family mourning her in front of a hut was released this week.

#Chhaupadideath 15-yr-old dies in Chhaupadi shed | https://t.co/CohM6UP8TP

Chhaupadi is a Nepali practice with roots in Hinduism.

Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

The belief is that women become impure during their menstruation cycle and cannot be allowed around the rest of the family. They are forbidden from touching things like kitchen utensils and public water sources, attending school, or sleeping inside the family home. In the remote villages of western Nepal, this belief takes a more extreme form: banishing women on their periods to chhaupadi huts.

A typical chhaupadi hut is fairly small. The sheds or outbuildings often don’t have proper windows or doors. The huts are poorly protected from the elements and littered with hay and livestock dung. Staying in these sheds also exposes women to snake bites, freezing weather, and wild animal attacks.

The photo below was taken in the Legudsen village in the western Accham district in 2014. It shows a family member attempting to feed women practicing chhaupadi without touching their utensils.

Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

They aren't allowed to prepare food and are often forced into doing more demanding physical labor, like collecting firewood or farm labor. Chhaupadi also entails restrictions on the women's diets. They typically are forbidden from eating meat or other nutritious fruits and vegetables — they are instead given dry food, bread, or beaten rice. The women aren't allowed to drink milk or eat any dairy products either because locals believe it would make their cows and buffaloes sick.

"If we touch men or anything in the house, cook, or use public water tanks and wells, our god, Debti, will punish us. Our hands and legs will be twisted, our eyes plucked out," a Nepali woman told Al Jazeera in 2014.

The most common cause of chhaupadi-related deaths is asphyxiation.

Prakash Mathema / AFP / Getty Images

According to a UN report, there's no official number of how many women a year die chhaupadi-related deaths. But the most common cause of death is what happened this week to Tiruwa. The huts aren't properly ventilated and during winter months, women try to light a fire to stay warm, and they either accidentally set the hut on fire or suffocate.

There are other risks involved with chhaupadi. Due to the restricted diets forced upon women, they usually lack much-needed nutrients during their periods. They also risk being attacked by wild animals because many chhaupadi sheds don't have doors. The practice also perpetuates intense psychological harm, creating feelings of guilt and humiliation.

The death of Roshani Tiruwa is only one in a series of high-profile chhaupadi-related deaths in Nepal over the last few years.

Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Yagraj Bhul's 15-year-old daughter Sarmila died in 2013 while practicing chhaupadi. Sarmila's cause of death was never determined as there was no post-mortem. There weren't any doctors in the village to perform it either. Bhul told reporters in 2014, however, that after his daughter's death, none of the women in his family practice chhaupadi anymore.

Tiruwa was the second woman to die because of chhaupadi this year. In November, a 26-year-old was found dead inside a shed.

Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Dambara Upadhyay was living with her in-laws while her husband worked in India. She was found dead the morning after her last night of menstrual seclusion.

The news of her death made national headlines and the prime minister of Nepal even launched an investigation. The cause of Upadhyay's death was never determined, but she was found with blood coming out of her nose. The door was locked from the inside, so foul play wasn't suspected. It's believed she suffered a heart attack.

But the government hasn't taken any concrete steps yet. "We have now requested local organizations and women groups to destroy all chhaupadi sheds," Bishnu Prasad Lamsal at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare told BuzzFeed News.

How is this still happening?

Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Chhaupadi was officially banned in 2005 by Nepal's Supreme Court. In major cities like Kathmandu, it's virtually unheard of, but in the far-western districts of Nepal, it's still deeply ingrained in the culture.

“It is really difficult dealing with the older people in communities that follow [these] norms — myths related to menstrual-hygiene management that have been practised from generation to generation,” Sandhya Chaulagain of WaterAid Nepal told The Guardian in April. “So we are focusing our program on youth, as they are the change-makers and future elders.”

Traditions like #Chaupadi in practice, regardless of no's of deaths, is a clear understanding of a value of #GirlChild in the #NepaliSociety

#Chaupadi in headlines again with the death of a 15yr old in the Chau shed. How many more deaths before this hideous tradition ends?

According to the Himalayan Times, after the death in November, Nepal's Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare is considering a law that would penalize families that allow the practice.

@himabista The tradition is deep rooted. Awareness is crucial but not sufficient. Law enforcing agencies should be proactive. #Chhaupadi

Ryan Broderick is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Ryan Broderick at ryan@buzzfeed.com.

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