A new law has been mooted to deal with domestic violence and protect widows from intrusive in-laws, amid growing reports of domestic violence in the country. If enacted, days when in-laws harassed widows over their husband’s property or forced them to be inherited may become history. Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs is expected to table its report on amendments on the Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill, 2013 next Tuesday.
The Bill, which is already on its second reading, provides for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence, spouses and any children or other dependent persons involved in such a situation. Section 3 of the Bill defines violence abuse to include child marriage, interference from mother-in-laws, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, forced wife inheritance, widow cleansing, virginity testing and sexual violence within marriage.
Abuse will also include damage of property, defilement, emotional or physical abuse, forcible entry into the applicant’s residence where the parties do not share the same residence, incest, intimidation, stalking or verbal abuse. The Bill also declares that any person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with another person may apply to the court for a protection order in respect of that other person. Where the person who is eligible to apply for a protection order is a child, it will be made by a representative.
And if a person who is eligible to apply for a protection order is not a child but is unable to make the application personally, an application may be made on that person’s behalf by a representative appointed. A child may make application for a protection order through parent or guardian, a children officer, a police officer, a church or any other religious institution, police officer, a conciliator among several others listed in the Bill.
Under protection orders, police have a major role to play and may without a warrant, arrest and prefer charges against any person whom they reasonably suspect to have assaulted or threatened to assault a family member. They may also arrest when they suspect reaching of a protection order or if they suspect that a person is likely to commit a breach of the peace. The new arrangement also states that Inspector General of Police is to ensure development of procedures on matters raised including training police officers to deal with family related matters or domestic violence, facilitating the reporting process so that complainants may report to the police without fear and ensure that complaints are processed expeditiously.
“A person to whom a complaint of domestic violence is made or who investigates any such complaint will advise the complainant of all relief measures available, including access to shelter, medical assistance or they shall assist the complainant in any other suitable way,” reads Article 3 of the Bill. “The provisions of protection orders will not limit the power of a police officer to enter any premises under this Act or any other law,” it adds.
But even as the complainant seeks help from police officers, an applicant who is not satisfied with services rendered will have the right to register a complaint under the Independent Police Oversight Authority Act or under the National Police Service Act. Protection mechanism will be extended to the Interior Cabinet Secretary, where in consultation with county executive, will develop the necessary policy to facilitate the establishment of appropriate mechanisms to provide temporary emergency shelters or safe houses and any other service relevant for protection of victims of domestic violence.
On its part, the court may make a protection order if satisfied that the respondent is using domestic violence against the applicant or a child of the applicant’s family or both. A court should, however, not decline to make a protection order merely because the existence of other proceedings between or related parties. The Bill provides that a minor who has attained the age of 18 may, with leave of the court, make the application on his or her own behalf without a next friend or guardian and orders may be made as if the minor were of full age.
“Nothing prevents a child on whose behalf an application for a protection order is made by a representative from being heard in the proceedings, and where the child expresses views on the need for and outcome of the proceedings, the court shall take account of those views to the extent that it thinks fit, having regard to the age and maturity of the child,” says the Bill. A protection order may direct a respondent not to physically or sexually abuse or threaten the protected person.
The respondent is also prohibited from engaging in behaviour including intimidation or harassment, which amounts to physical abuse or engage in cultural or customary rites or practices that abuse the protected person. Similarly, taking account the circumstances of the cases, the court may direct parties to participate in counseling and conciliation programmes including those provided by religious institutions and any suitable cultural programmes. Where the court makes a protection order, it will apply for the benefit of any child of the applicant’s family.
“The counseling provided will be aimed at ensuring respect for the law prohibiting domestic violence, the promotion of a protective environment for all within the family and promotion of harmonious domestic relations between parties,” the Bill states. Nyeri Women’s Representative, lawyer Priscillah Nyokabi, who spoke during a Women Empowerment Link workshop yesterday, said the Legal Affairs Committee will make recommendations on the Bill to make it acceptable to the community and unify the family unit.