Law is "Essential" but not "Sufficient"
Sadrul Hasan Mazumder
Domestic Violence [Protection & Prevention] Law 2010 has been passed by the National Parliament, which has met the long cherish demand of the women movement and definitely will forward the progress of the nation there by, which will be regarded as the land mark achievement in the history of women development in the country. We all congratulated ourselves in particular to those who have been relentlessly contributed in the process of drafting the Bill being a member of the Citizen's Coalition against Domestic Violence [CiDV], where the members' organisations have put their every effort and translate their experiences in formulating the law. Special thanks to Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Honourable State Minister, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs who has picked the proposed draft in government machinery for review and taking necessary actions perhaps one of few where the voices of the citizen's in general and women in particular were reflected and we must thanks our development partners who extended their technical support in this endeavour. The provisions of this Act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of the provisions of any other law, for the time being in force. The law is a combination of both the criminal and civil in nature where all the protection orders to be made under the law will be of Civil in nature and disobeying of such protection order will be treated as Criminal Offence for which punishment has been suggested in the law.
Bangladesh has a good number of laws conducive to the rights of women but why the demand was such subversive and was raised from the grass roots to the national level? The demand raised from organizations like ASK, BNWLA, BLAST and others who has long track records of providing legal support that they do not have appropriate legal instrument to interpret the sufferings of most of the women facing at domestic arena into legal framework and the society at large do not recognise such daily facts as offence at all. The saddest part of the existing legal instruments is that women have to wait to be brutally murdered or tortured or injured certified by a registered doctor to get justice, without which complaints of torture/violence are not taken into cognizance, which actually has compelled the demand to bring the required changes in the legal arrangement so that in one hand domestic violence can be addressed according to the intensity of the committed offense and prohibiting misuse of that arrangement in other hand.
Dr. Tamanna Huq aged about 28 died at her husband's house on August 29, 2009 only after three years of her marriage. Her in-laws tried to prove that she committed suicide but her parents and relatives were certain that she was murdered.
Mafruda Haque Sutapa a final year student of Mass Communication & Journalism Department under Dhaka University was found dead hanging with the window grill at her husband's house on September 20, 2009. Her in-laws stated to the police that she committed suicide. But her family sources claimed that she was murdered. She was married to Mr. Imrul just one year and three months back. It was claimed by her family members and relatives that she has been physically and mentally tortured by her husband and in laws since marriage on the demand of dowry.
Sonia Sultana, twenty nine years old Development Activist was found dead in hanging on May 08, 2009 at her husband's house. In the primary investigation it has been mentioned that it's a normal dead incidence but the family sources claimed that she was murdered as there were several spots of injury on her body.
Unfortunate to mention few of many incidences that takes place each and every day implicate that violence against women still remain as the deadly fact in our society where women are persecuted by close associates like husbands and relatives at domestic level at large. Such incidences like many others remain unreported indicate that women are not safe at the place where they are supposed to be the safest. Domestic violence is the most unrecognised form of violence and a very pervasive, serious social malady in every cluster of the society whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate, developed or underdeveloped. Media has been playing an important role in covering the incidences of violence against women, which reportedly concentrate on severe incidences like murder, suicide, rape etc. firstly because incidences of domestic violence were not recognized by laws of the land but we have got this law and now it is the time for action.
Salient feature of the law
Meaning of Domestic Violence: Article-3
Domestic violence means abuse in physical, psychological, economical and sexual nature against one person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in family relationship, irrespective of the physical location where that act takes place.
* Any woman or children who is or has been at risk of being subjected to domestic violence.
* Any victim who is or has been a family relationship with the respondent.
* Any handicapped adult who is or has been subjected to domestic violence. any person can file a complaint on their behalf.
Against whom can a complaint be filed?
* Any adult person who has been in a family relationship with the victim
* Relatives of the husband or male partner including his male and female relatives.
Forum of relief: Article 4, 5 & 6
* For the purpose of this Act after receiving a complaint a Police Officer, Enforcement Officer or Service Providers shall inform the victim about the availability of the services including medical and legal aid services.
* Upon receiving complaint the first class Magistrate shall grant an interim Protection Order or any other order under this Act.
* Multiplicity of forum reliefs can be sought in other legal proceedings such as petition for divorce, maintenance.
Compensation Order: Article-16
The Court may pass a decree of compensation ascertainment of victim's injury or damage or loss as a result of domestic violence.
Temporary Custody Order: Article-17
At any stage of hearing of the application for a protection order or for any other relief under this Act, a temporary custody of children of the victim will grant to the victim or the applicant.
Any party to the proceedings under this Act may file an appeal.
Consequences of breach of Protection Order: Article 30 & 31
* Breach of protection order deemed to be a punishable Offence-cognizable and bail able.
* First contravenes: imprisonment six months or fine up to taka ten thousand or both or engaging in a service benefiting to the community for a period
* Subsequent contravention-imprisonment up to twenty four months and fine up to taka one lac or both or engaging in a service benefiting to the community for a period.
Punishment for false complaint: Article-32
Conviction up to twelve months imprisonment and also be liable to fine up to Tk 50,000 or both.
Power to make rules: Artilce36
The Government shall make rules for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of this Act.
In addition to the law we need to device social programms against domestic violence having interventions to change social attitude and beliefs that legitimate male violence and essence of male superiority, which may include reforms in education system, having incentive to enhance the moral quality during the tender age. Consideration for involvement of culturally diverged group into social awareness programs is a must, where customary practices of indigenous groups should be well understood.
To ensure proper enforcement of the law immediate initiatives needed to board creating a social safety net based on community participation that includes supports like counseling and legal aid as protective measures. As long as the question of victim witness protection is involved, to deal with incidences of domestic violence, in particular to execute the Residence Order stipulated in Article 15 of the said law there is no alternative of community intervention - the efficiency of the community based legal institutions should be enhanced and public confidence into the Local Justice System should be restored. In addition to that integral services for identifying the possible victims and enhancing local government initiatives designed to developing their capacity are must so that they can handle such victims within their own capacity and jurisdiction. Although the Police have little intervention according to the law but they need to be trained on mechanism of protecting gender-base violence including techniques of firsthand management of the possible victims - their attitude towards women should be changed at large. Available services through the Victims Support Centers and the One Stop Crisis Center should be extended up to Upazilla level and the quality of services rendered by these institutions should be ensured conforming the Minimum Standard of Care and universal Human Rights Standards.
Following the Article 8 of the Domestic Violence [Protection & Prevention] Law 2010, the Enforcement Officer will arrange shelter for the aggrieved person. In such cases of providing shelter support to the aggrieved women and children, the traditional shelter services provided by both NGOs and the Government must be changed following the Women Refuge Model. Because in the traditional way the women remain confined, their right to mobility and living a free life are destroyed keeping the perpetrators free, which also contradicts with the Article 3(b)(c) of the said law. Experiences show that such confinement for a certain period in the name of shelter creates threat to Social Integration Program, while initiatives are being taken to integrate the survivors to the mainstream of the society. Rather the Women Refuge Model enables the survivors to stay in a relatively free life and allow the survivor to do her work having Protection Order under the law. The law has created unprecedented spaces for women in recognising their Right to Shelter as mentioned in the Article 15 of the newly passed law.
For immediate start the government required funding, we have got the law but during the current fiscal year there is no specific allocation for supporting the "GET READY" activities for the implementation of the law. In such a situation Government and the non-government agencies should maximise the usages of available funding from the development partners so that we can make the preparation quite smoother and more effective. We further congratulate the government for enacting the Domestic Violence [Protection & Prevention] Law 2010, which requires urgent and immediate response for its implementation. Let us join the crusade in challenging Domestic Violence to the next door and help the survivors in getting support. Let us safeguard misuse of the law.
The writer is the National Coordinator-Election Program, The Asia Foundation [Views reflected are of the author not of Asia Foundation].