26 November 2007
Civil society groups call for the strengthening of the Domestic Violence Bill
The Domestic Violence Bill of 2007 has been tabled at Parliament. However, certain aspects of profound importance have not been included in this draft Bill. “This is a welcome Bill but to make a real difference the Bill needs to go beyond what the law says already,” said Lorato Sakufiwa, the Director of the Kagiso Women’s Shelter.
As it stands, the Bill will not change the current legal framework addressing violence in domestic relationships. To make a real difference the following aspects need to be included in the Domestic Violence Bill of 2007:
- Establishment of special police units on domestic violence – police officers should be trained specifically to handle domestic violence complaints and be given specific and detailed instructions on how to handle these cases;
- An obligation on police officers to treat such complaints with the seriousness they deserve – they should respond promptly to such complaints, provide appropriate information to victims, assist in transporting victims to safe locations and to immediately assist them in accessing health services;
- Mandatory recording of complaints – police officers should file a domestic violence report to allow for accurate information on the extent of domestic violence in the country, and the police should report the number of complaints annually to parliament;
- An allowance for applications for restraining orders to be brought by persons other than the applicant – this is to account for situations where the victim does not recognize the extent of the danger, but where it is clear to a neutral third party;
- Alternative complaint procedures via health services – a person should be able to file a complaint of domestic violence with a state-run or private health facility, which must then immediately refer the complaint to the police.
Such legislation would be an important step in protecting the rights of those most vulnerable and would signal Botswana’s commitment to upholding human rights obligations. Many other countries in the region such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and South Africa have recently passed domestic violence legislation.
A UN report estimated that six out of ten women in Botswana are survivors of domestic violence. “There is a link between being a victim of violence and engaging in high risk sexual behaviour. Both incidences increase the risk of HIV infection which elevates the risk of further violence. Abused women may be wary of accessing ‘prevention, treatment or care’ information or materials about HIV/AIDS for fear of raising suspicions about their health status – such women may also conceal their status or avoid knowing their status to deter abuse,” said BONELA Director, Christine Stegling.