Amend law to help fight violence against women, Parliament told

Parliament has its work cut out for it in tackling issues around gender-based violence if the recommendations of the high-level panel on the assessment of legislation and the acceleration of fundamental change, is anything to go by. The panel in its recently published report made a couple of recommendations for Parliament to take a more leading role on the issue. Acknowledging the problems raised around the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), it recommended that Parliament make certain changes to the DVA that will be welcomed by civil society organisations.

The panel noted concerns raised during the public hearings by civil society on the limitations and confusion around certain provisions of the Act that hamper effective implementation. It was also noted among others, that the Act “lack clear provisions for including economic abuse as part of the definition of abuse”. Concerns were also noted over the fact that “the act of domestic violence in itself is not regarded as a prima facie offence, the lack of provisions for training of police officers and the fact that the Department of Social Development is not legally obligated to provide victims of domestic abuse access to shelters”.

The Panel now wants Parliament to use its powers to introduce certain legislative changes to the Act that range from removing the term ‘imminent harm’ in order to avoid confusion. The recommended changes should also include accountability mechanisms to ensure that police and court staff who does not comply with the DVA are held properly accountable. Civil society organisations raised concerns during the public hearings over the inconsistencies in compliance levels across police stations. Calls were made to amend the Act to include domestic violence as a crime in its own right and to make training of police officers compulsory. Concerns were also raised during the public hearings over police officers’ noncompliance with provisions of the DVA.

SAPS’ latest monitoring report on police compliance with the DVA for the period from October 2016 to March this year, showed 242 cases of noncompliance were reported in the police stations surveyed.  The report was tabled in Parliament earlier. It showed disciplinary processes were instituted in 208 cases. The noncompliance ranged from police officers failing to arrest the abusers, failing to keep copies of the protection order and failing to properly record it in the domestic violence register. Six of the more than 200 police stations visited had compliance levels less than 30% showing the statistics is more or less aligned to the concerns raised.

The Panel also noted the Integrated Programme (IPA) addressing Violence Against Women and Children has been published but is still not officially launched or implemented. It recommended that Parliament should “recommend to the executive the development of a National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence, which is multi-sectoral, co-ordinated and inclusive, with a strong monitoring and evaluation component to hold all to account”. This plan must also be fully costed and developed with input from civil society. It also recommended that Parliament “should allocate funding for victim advocacy, criminal enforcement, and local capacity to implement the Strategic Plan”.

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