The Supreme Court of Nepal has ordered an inquiry into whether the centuries-old tradition of worshiping a virgin girl as a “living goddess”—called the Kumari Devi—has led to the exploitation of young girls and violates their human rights.
The order came after a child rights lawyer, who says she only wants to reform the tradition, not abolish it, filed a petition. Other activists have lodged their own court case aimed at keeping the tradition unchanged.
Traditionally, the young girl chosen to be deified as Kumari comes from the country’s Buddhist community, even though she is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the Hindu goddess Taleju. Once the girl meets strict criteria and passes certain tests, she is worshiped as a goddess by both Hindus and Buddhists until she reaches puberty, when she is replaced by another girl.