an end to the 'enjoyment' of domestic violence
The aside by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Viswa Warnapala
from the floor of the House this Wednesday during the debate on
the Bill to provide for the Prevention of any Form of Domestic Violence
that "Women have to be totally emancipated from domestic violence
for them to be able to enjoy it" (see the Island report of
parliamentary proceedings, Friday 25th February, 2005) is terribly
puzzling. Naturally, that is.
the congenial affability and the relative erudition of the Deputy
Minister, it is difficult to think that this statement, wholly contrary
as it is to all norms of civilised thinking today, could be anything
more than a printer's devil. However, its unintended import strikes
harder at home to the responses of much of the exceedingly less
enlightened fifty percent male population in this country than one
would ideally prefer.
perception is, to a great extent, that domestic violence is an issue
between the family, to be 'enjoyed' or not as the case may be, by
the wife. This is often the topic for ribald hilarity in conversations
of the strictly masculine kind. In Sri Lanka, much of the phenomenon
of domestic violence is convincingly hidden under notions of culture
and tradition despite the supposedly high literacy rate of women.
that regard, the distinction often drawn between public and private
violence by the courts has not been of much help either. It is therefore
surprising that a Bill in relation to the prevention of domestic
violence could have found its way to the currently august assembly
of Sri Lanka's legislators at all, in the first instance. However,
now that it has done so against considerable odds, it behoves us
to treat the issue seriously and refrain from trivialising what
is essentially, draft legislation of primary importance for both
men and women in this country.
the overriding gravity of the law that is pending before the House,
this column will examine the general context of the "mischief"
that the draft law proposes to address as well as the ideal features
that such a law should possess. It will then go on to look at the
specifics of the draft Domestic Violence Act next week.
goes without saying that a draft domestic violence law should apply
equally to men as well as women who are victims of abuse within
the home. Asserting this principle is a redundancy. But as evident
as this general principle is the uncontestable fact that the overwhelming
numbers of victims within the country are women.
no highly systematic data is available, periodic studies engaged
in by research centres and activist networks testify to the extent
of the problem. For example, Women In Need (WIN) a Non Governmental
Organisation offering assistance to women subjected to domestic
violence, has tabulated the following break-down of violations during
the period January 1997 to September 2001. According to this data,
during the year January 2001 to September 2001, out of one thousand
five hundred and forty six complaints of violence against women,
one thousand five hundred and fourteen were in relation to domestic
violence. Previous years recorded a similarly high component of
complaints as contrasted to complaints of rape, incest and sexual
Women's Rights Watch Year Report (tracking the press reportage of
violence against women in 1998), recorded two hundred and ninety
one incidents of violence within the home out of a total of one
thousand and ninety six incidents. Out of this, one hundred and
twenty nine incidents of murder were committed within the home with
husbands allegedly responsible for eighty three of the murders.
nature of cultural traditions in this country stigmatises man, woman
or child who goes outside the family circle to report on disputes
arising within the family. That such a predominantly high percentage
deals with violence by the husband upon the wife should therefore
call for considered resolution rather than hilarity.
contradistinction, there were only eleven reports of sentences among
the two hundred and ninety one cases of violence in the home so
reported during the year 1998. The sentences were for seven murders,
two assaults and two cases of incest. This again indicates the poor
nature of the legal response to the problem despite a process of
legal reform that has been ongoing particularly since 1995.
dealing with domestic violence around the world have acknowledged
that the term includes all forms of physical, sexual, psychological,
emotional, verbal and economic abuse. The inclusion of emotional,
verbal and psychological abuse, (patterns of degrading or humiliating
conduct towards a complainant, such as repeated insults, repeated
threats to cause emotional pain, whether to the complainant or to
some other person, and the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness
or jealousy) is marked.
more controversial is the inclusion of economic abuse, which includes
the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources
which a complainant requires, such as household necessities, mortgage
payments and rent payments, wages in the case of household workers,
and the unreasonable disposal of household effects or other property,
in which the complainant has an interest.
point of dispute has been the definition of domestic relationship.
At first glance, this would mean a relationship between two individuals
who are or were married to each other, including marriage according
to any law, custom, religion or practice. However, should the definition
also include two individuals who live or have lived together in
a relationship in the nature of marriage, although they are not,
or were not, married to each other, or are not able to be married
to each other?
such a relationship also include individuals who are family members
related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption, individuals who
live or have lived together as part of a joint or extended family
and individuals who are in an engagement, dating or customary relationship,
including an actual or perceived romantic, intimate or sexual relationship
of any duration?
controversial is the question as to whether the definition should
include individuals who are or were engaged within an employee -
employer relationship, where the complainant works as a household
worker in a residence, household or other place occupied, shared
or frequented by the respondent, whether the work is performed for
wages or not.
much less debate is the need for the law to empower courts to grant
interim protection orders directing the police to arrest the offender
and to remove that person from the home. The protection orders so
granted must necessarily be of wide application including restraining
the offender from enlisting the help of another person to carry
out a proxy act of violence. The granting of financial relief by
the court to the victim is also a general feature of domestic violence
laws in many countries.
these features are admirable no doubt and the Sri Lankan draft law
will be examined from this standpoint in the following column next
week, it may be pertinent to recall the fact that laws, by themselves,
have proved to be disastrously limited in their impact in Sri Lanka
particularly where disputes inside the home are concerned.
is a very salutary example in this respect, namely the Penal Code
amendments in 1995 that were supposed to benefit women and children
but have since then, been inefficacious in changing patterns of
physical abuse. Translating the law from theory into practice will
perhaps be the biggest challenge ahead for proponents of the draft
Domestic Violence Act even if the forthcoming parliamentary hurdle
is surmounted successfully.