TO GO WITH Nepal-women-religion-society-chhaupadi,FEATURE by Frankie Taggart
Thirteen year old Nepalese villager Sarswati Biswokarma sits inside a "chhaupadi house" in the village of Achham, some 800kms west of Kathmandu on November 23, 2011.  Isolation is part of a centuries-old Hindu ritual known as chhaupadi which is blamed for prolongued depression, young women's deaths and high infant mortality rates in remote, impoverished western Nepal. Under the practice women are prohibited from participating in normal family activities during menstruation and after childbirth.     AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
What's a 'menstruation hut'?
00:46 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Nearly eight out of 10 girls in a region of mid-Western Nepal sleep in dangerous outdoor “menstruation huts” during their period, despite the practice being outlawed, a study has found.

The illegal custom, known as “Chhaupadi,” stems from a centuries-old Hindu taboo that considers women and girls as unclean during menstruation. When women are on their periods, they are forbidden from a range of everyday activities and are often confined to “menstruation huts,” where they are expected to sleep at night.

The practice was criminalized in 2018 after a string of high-profile deaths. But the taboo remains and the practice continues unabated, according to the study, published Monday in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters.

A menstruation hut in Nepal, photographed by researchers from the University of Bath.

Researchers from the UK’s University of Bath worked with local non-profit organization Center for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities (CREHPA) to survey 400 teenage girls in the Karnali province of mid-Western Nepal.

The study found that 77% of the girls surveyed practiced Chhaupadi. Class made only a slight difference; although girls from more urban and affluent households were less likely to practice Chhaupadi, 66% of girls in the top fifth wealth bracket still did.

Most of the girls had access to soap and water during their time in the huts, which allowed for better menstrual hygiene, but they still faced a number of other threats and fears.

“The women and girls we spoke to were terrified of snakes and animals coming in at night, or of being attacked by strangers,” said Jennifer Thomson, one of the study’s researchers, in a press release. “Even if they hadn’t experienced that directly, the psychological stress of that was quite real.”

A total of 40% of girls surveyed were unaware the practice was illegal.

The ramshackle huts often have small doors and no windows, with poor sanitation and ventilation. There have been several cases over the years of girls dying from causes like snake bites and suffocation; a 17-year-old girl died this February from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire inside the huts to keep warm at night. She was at least the fourth victim of the practice to have died this year.

A menstruation hut in the Nepali village of Achham, on November 23, 2011.