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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill

  • Bill seeks to promote domestic harmony
    Ropafadzo Mapimhidze, The Herald (Zimbabwe)
    June 13, 2006

    View the index of articles on the debate around the Domestic Violence Bill

    The Domestic Violence Bill, drafted 10 years ago, was approved about two weeks ago and should be tabled in Parliament soon.

    The Bill, which aims at promoting domestic harmony will also provide long term measures for the prevention of domestic violence.

    Although women constitute the majority that suffers domestic violence from their spouses, men too are subjected to different forms of abuse from their partners.

    "Everyone is affected by domestic violence and the Bill speaks to us at a very personal level. We all know which form of domestic violence we perpetrate and we must stop.

    "The Bill also speaks about challenging power in relationships in a very big way. We have heard of men that are abused by their wives and these will be protected by this legislation," said Ms Emilia Muchawa from the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association at a meeting held recently in Harare to discuss the Bill.

    She urged men not to view domestic violence as a husband and wife affair but to look at it as conflict between parents, sister and brother-in-law or brother and sister-in-law.

    "Family structures, for instance, blamed the victim and will ask what she had done to get that beating.

    These family structures have not served to stop domestic violence hence there was need to come up with legislation to assist such people," she said.

    All people in any form of a relationship will benefit from the Bill and these include a current, former wife or husband; all children whether born in or out of wedlock, adopted or step children; people living with the perpetrator of violence, for example relatives or domestic workers.

    A girlfriend or boyfriend whether current or former will also benefit from the Bill.

    "Everyone has the duty of care even when you break up. But it would seem men and women trail each other because there always seems to be unfinished business," said Ms Muchawa.

    But what is domestic violence?

    The Bill describes domestic violence as physical violence that includes hitting, kicking, and punching and any other manner of physical abuse or assault or threat of such physical assault.

    Sexual abuse including rape, indecent assault, unwanted sexual touching or exposure or any act that degrades another person also contribute to domestic violence.

    There have been instances where a jilted partner resorts to smashing or destroying property that is either jointly owned or belongs to another person. This action also constitutes domestic violence.

    Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse and this would include repeated insults, ridicule, name calling or repeated threats to cause emotional pain, obsessive jealousy and any behaviour likely to cause mental injury is also listed as a form of domestic violence.

    "A lot of people have lost self esteem, mumble to themselves and have developed all sorts of chronic conditions like high blood pressure because of verbal abuse from a spouse," said Ms Muchawa.

    Some spouses had totally lost their minds and were on permanent mental treatment a result caused by many years of psychological abuse.

    Harassment, which includes watching or loitering around a person’s home or workplace, telephoning a person’s home or sending messages to a person’s home and stalking is all tantamount to domestic violence.

    Entry into the residence of another person without consent where the parties are no longer living together is also liable to prosecution.

    Abuse caused by some cultural practices that discriminate or degrade women like virginity testing, female genital mutilation, pledging of women and girls for appeasement of spirits, child marriages, forced marriages, forced wife inheritance and sexual contact between fathers-in-law and newly married daughters in law is violation of a person’s rights under this Bill.

    There is a practice in Zimbabwe where a bride is expected to first be intimate with a bridegroom’s father before they consummate their marriage (through a practice known as nolo yemwizana among the Venda people), and this has received condemnation given the high prevalence of HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe.

    The beauty of this Bill is that, while in the past it was the victim of violence that was required to make a police report; there is provision for other people to apply for a Protection order on behalf of the victim.

    This could be any person allowed by the victim to apply for them; a person looking after the victim who is below 18 years of age or any person representing the victim, without the victim’s permission but with the permission of the courts.

    A protection order is an order given by a magistrate’s court against a person causing domestic violence in any form, which is meant to ensure that such a person does not continue to commit the violence. This may also order the person committing the violence to pay maintenance where there is economic violence.

    Economic abuse includes deprivation of economic resources meant for family use such as household necessities, medical expenses or school fees. It also includes unreasonable disposal of household assets or other property like a house and denying the right to engage in income generating activity to seek employment.

    "A protection order directs the perpetrator to stop the violence and when issued with a warrant of arrest, if breached the perpetrator of violence is subject to arrest. In the past, women would make a report and withdraw the matter. There are many reasons why the women did that and this basically because they have lost their self esteem and cannot exist without the perpetrator of violence," Ms Muchawa said.

    Some withdraw the cases for fear of retribution. And what happens when the perpetrator breaks the protection order terms?

    A repeated breach of the order results in an offence and liability to imprisonment for up to five years.

    The order may remain in force for at least five years but may be cancelled or changed by a court where there are changed circumstances — after hearing the matter.

    In cases where an offence is also an offence under criminal law, the sentences under the Domestic Violence Bill will be stiffer.

    The courts will consider written evidence, which may include medical evidence, based on police report or oral evidence by the victim, the perpetrator and any witness. If someone lies in an affidavit for a protection order, it is an offence that can lead to imprisonment of up to 20 years.

    According to research by Musasa Project in 1999, at least one in four women in Zimbabwe were subject to some form of domestic violence but the figure could be higher at the moment.

    Reasons cited for conflict in the home today include economic hardships, social problems including those that revolve around HIV and Aids.

    Disclosure of one’s HIV positive status in the case of women leads to emotional and physical abuse, divorce, death or ostracisation.

    Ms Muchawa said there was need for the establishment of safe houses to temporarily accommodate survivors of domestic violence.

    Musasa Project, an NGO that deals with counselling and rehabilitation of survivors of domestic violence has a couple of safe houses and the Government has only one in Gweru.

    Those who eventually turn up at these shelters would have endured as much as 10 years of physical, sexual and psychological violence. Some have endured violence whilst they were pregnant.

    Until recently, African governments did not acknowledge domestic violence and yet statistics indicate that a third to more than half of women surveyed (World Bank report 1997) were beaten by a partner.

    Because violence is often not defined to include hitting without serious injury, women do not complain or seek help unless the violence is serious, according to a research by Beyond Inequalities a series of publications that profile women in Southern Africa.

    "By the time they gather courage to ask for help, the problem has grown so much that it is almost impossible to get a solution . . .," the institute says.

    The Domestic Violence Bill provides for a domestic violence committee made up of government representatives, non governmental organisations specialising in women’s and children’s issues, churches and traditional leaders. Their role would include keeping under review the problem of domestic violence; information dissemination and awareness on the rising problem; promotion of research, service provision and monitoring.

    The committee would also promote implementation of the Act and also promote the establishment of safe houses.

    Zimbabwe is signatory to and has ratified several agreements and conventions pertaining to gender equality, elimination of violence against women and protection of children.

    These include the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women (Cedaw), The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPFA) of 1995, The Southern African Development Community’s (Sadc) Gender and Development Declaration of 1997 and its addendum on violence against women and children signed in 1998.

    Zimbabwe is also signatory to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of September 2000, United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) Declaration on HIV and Aids in June 2001 and is committed to the 2004 UN secretary general’s task force on women, girls and HIV/Aids.

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