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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill
Harrowing tales recounted at the Domestic Violence Bill hearing
Machirori, Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service
the index of articles on the debate around the Domestic Violence
of the public hearing on the Domestic
Violence Bill scarcely betrayed hinted at the poignancy of many
of the testimonies that would follow. Women and girls - professionals,
students, housewives, some barely able to walk with age, some clutching
babies at their hips - sang, danced and ululated as they made their
grand entrance into the public meeting room. But soon after came
the disbelieving silence as victims of domestic violence shared
their horrific ordeals.
was held in order for organisations and the general public to make
submissions on the Domestic Violence Bill to the Portfolio Committees
on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, as well as Youth, Gender
and Women's Affairs. In her address to the committees, the Director
Child Network (GCN), Betty Makoni, gave an account on behalf
of a group of victims and survivors of domestic violence present
at the gathering. She recounted the ordeal of a family of three
young siblings, the oldest barely 10
years old, who had watched their father bludgeon their mother to
death. Her crime was that she had wanted to attend a funeral - something
her husband found suspicious, as this was the second she was to
attend in quick succession. He is currently in prison. Another story
was shared of a girl who was raped and impregnated by her own father.
She gave birth to her child around the same time as her own mother
- both women bearing children by the same man. One victim showed
her physical reminder of the abuse she had suffered at the hands
of her husband - the blood-soaked T-shirt she had been wearing that
day. Many sighed and moaned under their breath at the stories.
private matter is a matter of public policy," noted the Director
of Women's Trust, Luta Shaba. This points to the need for openness
in discussing issues around domestic violence as shown by the testimonies
and submissions presented before the panel of government officials.
Present were the Minister of Gender, Women's Affairs and Community
Development, Oppah Muchinguri, Minister Shuvai Mahofa, Members of
Parliament and senators. Organisations dealing in gender, law, human
rights and HIV and AIDS, such as GCN, Zimbabwe
Women Lawyers' Association (ZWALA), Padare/Enkhundleni,
Resources Centre and Network and many others were also in attendance.
The main recommendations
made to the committee were in terms of planning and implementation
around the Bill, once it is passed into law. The Swedish International
Development Agency (SIDA) advocated for society preparedness campaigns
for the care of abused women and children. The agency also called
for massive training on domestic violence in all sectors of society.
During this process they suggested that best practices would also
Coordinator of Women and Law in Southern Africa, Sylvia Chirau,
expressed the need for a resocialisation process in terms of challenging
society's attitudes and values around gender and violence, beginning
with giving children as young as nursery school, anti-violence lessons.
of ZWALA noted that while the Domestic Violence Bill provides a
harmonised procedure for a person who is a victim of domestic violence,
it still requires amending in order to strengthen it. For instance,
she noted that no minimum sentence is provided for the offence of
domestic violence, which leaves this to the magistrate to decide.
Many echoed this sentiment, calling for much stiffer penalties than
the 10-year maximum prison sentence and the level fourteen fine
(Z$25 000) the Bill currently offers as punishment. Also of great
importance to note is that most domestic violence cases are not
heard in national courts but filtered through the junior magistrates'
courts where fines are as low as $4,000. This means that perpetrators
of domestic violence can easily pay their fine, re-enter society
and commit the same crimes again.
ZWALA also urged
the Portfolio Committee to consider issues of access to justice.
Magistrates' courts and police are not easily accessible to rural
people and a suggestion was made for chiefs to have powers to grant
protection orders to protect victims from further abuse. ZWALA noted
that the rural setting meant that few NGOs were available to provide
anti-domestic violence counselors and therefore, a proposal was
made that people at village and ward levels be trained to provide
the service. Under the proposed law, a panel of social welfare officers
and members of private voluntary organisations concerned with domestic
violence will be constituted to counsel and advise survivors of
no submissions by HIV and AIDS organisations were made to the Portfolio
Committees, especially in light of the fact that the Bill never
makes direct reference to the link between domestic violence and
HIV. Rape and coerced sexual activity are important drivers in the
spread of HIV, while women who demand condom use in their relationships
are often subjected to abusive retaliation by their partners. Current
statistics show that over half of all people living with HIV and
AIDS in Zimbabwe are women.
The Bill is
also being mooted near to the time of the annual commemorations
of the 16 Days of Activism to stop Violence Against Women, with
the campaign beginning on the 25th of November. The event provides
women human rights defenders with a powerful platform for continued
lobbying for the immediate passing of the Bill into law. This will
be assisted by the October release of the UN Secretary General's
in-depth study into all forms of Violence Against Women.
While many of
the speakers at the public hearing voiced frustration at the long
wait for a law to protect them from the on-going violence, they
maintained determination to see their efforts succeed. And as the
meeting drew to a close, all were reminded once more of it significance
when one of the young boys who had watched his father beat his mother
to death came forward to give his views on the Bill. He and his
brother and sister now live with their 90-year-old grandmother who
is barely able to support them. "I watched my father kill my mother,"
recounted the barefoot boy. "I want him in jail for forty years
the SAfAIDS fact
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