The Maldives parliament yesterday passed a much awaited Domestic Violence Bill which for the first time will provide legal provisions to protect victims from domestic abuse through protective orders and improved monitoring mechanisms.
The bill received broad cross party support when it was submitted by then opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) in October 2011. It was submitted in an attempt to enact key changes to existing legislation and address societal attitudes to violence committed against women and girls within domestic circles.
Out of the 54 MPs present at Monday’s parliamentary session, 50 voted in favour of the bill, while two members, including Jumhoory Party MP Ibrahim Muththalib and MDP MP Mohamed Gasam voted against it. Two MPs abstained from the vote.
The passage to endorsement took over an year longer than anticipated, mostly due to the resistance from several MPs who had argued the bill was “un-Islamic” and criticised it for “unduly favouring” women while at the same time making life “extremely difficult” for men, who they said, were wronged by women.
Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, who re-drafted the bill during the committee stage, noted in an interview with Minivan News today that several MPs had proposed amendments during the committee stage to revise clauses they deemed were in contravention to Islam. However, these proposed amendments failed due to the lack of support, he added.
Nasheed insisted that the bill is actually “gender neutral” and provided equal protection to “everyone in a domestic relationship” including husband and wife, family and non-family members such as house-helps.
He added, “The argument for women is generated as a larger segment of the vulnerable victims include women and girls”.
A Ministry of Gender and Family study – the first comprehensive nationwide survey of domestic violence in the Maldives – showed that one in every three women between the ages of 15-49 has been a victim of domestic violence.
The study suggested there was general acceptance of domestic violence across the country and among both sexes, who perceived it as being ‘normal’ or ‘justified’.
Seventy percent of Maldivian women believe, for example, that there are circumstances under which a man is justified in beating his wife. Infidelity and disobedience, most women accept, are valid reasons for taking a good beating from the husband.
A majority of women also accept that they have a subordinate role to men, the report stated among it’s conclusions.
The survey added that one in every three Maldivian men who commit acts of domestic violence against women do so for ‘no reason’. One in four does it to punish the woman for disobedience, and one in five does it because he is “jealous”.
One in every ten men beats up his partner because she refuses him sex, and the rest of them do it for any number of reasons – lack of food at home, family problems, because they are broke or unemployed, because they are having problems at work, or because the woman is pregnant
The new legislation passed this week is designed to offers a holistic and effective legal framework for addressing domestic violence in Maldives. It aims to do this by providing sweeping powers to regulatory authorities to expedite investigations of abuse within private spheres, makes provision for protection orders and legal remedies for victims; punishments to perpetrators who violates the court orders; psychological and rehabilitative services for victims or perpetrators, and processes for promotion of reconciliation.
Offences and Protective Remedies
According to the legislation, sexual, physical and emotional abuse of victims, economic and psychological abuse, intimidation, stalking and harassment, deliberate damage to property of the victims are all considered offences and perpetrators are subjected to the punishments and court orders under this legislation.
A husband who deliberately impregnates a wife seeking a divorce from an abusive marriage, or impregnates her despite the known health risks will also be committing an offence under the legislation.
However, MP Nasheed observed the stated offences in the Domestic Violence Law are considered “civil offences”, but it does not prevent the criminal prosecution of the perpetrator under penal code and other relevant legislations.
The legislation also offers several civil remedies for alleged victims to protect themselves and families from further abuse from assailants through protective orders, restraining orders and custody/maintenance orders.
The protective orders include “certain things that cannot be done or acts from which the victims are protected,” Nasheed explained.
The restraining order meanwhile prohibits an alleged perpetrator from committing specific acts pertaining to the complaints. For instance, where the perpetrator and the victim share the same household, the court can restrict the victim from “entering and exiting their private dwelling, place of work, employment, teaching, learning or any other commonly visited place.”
Meanwhile, in the event a wife applies for a protection order, the bill gives courts the authority to evict the husband from the residence, if the need arises.
The court can grant a three-month provisional order without a trail or to the knowledge of the alleged perpetrator while he or she is given the right to challenge the order during the trial to make the order permanent.
Violations of these orders are constituted as a criminal offence and the perpetrator is subjected to a maximum fine of Rf50, 000 and maximum three years of imprisonment.
Police and Family Protection Authority
Under the legislation, in cases where the police has reasonable evidence to believe a person is a victim of domestic abuse, the police can enter the place of crime without a court order and arrest perpetrators.
It also mandates the police to transfer the victim from the abusive environment to a secure location, if necessary with their own expenses.
“Once the legislation is ratified, the police must decide and announce protocols to address domestic violence cases, assess the level of damage to the victims and if necessary remove the victim from abusive environment and give shelter,” Nasheed noted. “Once these protocols are activated, [police] don’t wait to decide who takes care of the expenses.”
Police media official Hassan Haneef said today that the police will comment on the legislation after a thorough study.
Health professionals and care workers are subjected to statutory obligations to report and act on suspected domestic violence cases.
Meanwhile, an institution named “Family Protection Authority” (FPA) must be established under the legislation with the primary mandate to implement the legislation and create awareness. The authority must establish easy mechanisms among other responsibilities, to allow victims to report abuse, provide psychological and rehabilitative services for victims and perpetrators, and processes for promotion of reconciliation.
According to Nasheed, the existing Department of Family and Child Protection Unit under the Health Ministry is likely to “ripen into the full fledged institution [FPA]”.
The Gender Department had earlier echoed concerns over the lack of a budget required to implement the legislation and asked the parliament to pass it with the necessary budget.
However, Nasheed responded although a budget has not been allocated under the legislation it does not” prevent the legislation coming from into being” and added that once the law is passed, it “gives the authority the right to charge the consolidated fund.”