Source: The Namibian

Justice minister Yvonne Dausab last week introduced sweeping proposed amendments to the country's domestic violence law, which could improve the government's response to cases of domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) and protect victims against intimidation.

This includes a proposal to grant the courts the power to issue victims protection orders without notifying alleged perpetrators of the proceedings or affording them the chance to be heard.

Dausab tabled these changes to the Combating of Domestic Violence Act of 2003 in the National Assembly (NA).

The amendment bill in general seeks to promote the protection of vulnerable women, men and children who continue to suffer the atrocities of violence perpetrated by those at home and elsewhere.

If approved, the proposed amendments would also make it possible for victims of domestic violence and GBV to apply for a protection order by filing an affidavit at the nearest police station in cases where it is impossible for such persons to make an application at the nearest court.

The proposed amendments would further strengthen the safeguards against the intimidation of complainants by empowering the courts to postpone enquiries to consider whether the steps taken by station commanders are sufficient.

Courts would also be empowered to make an order for any further police action that may be required to protect the complainant or applicant. 

In addition to the 'no-contact' provision under the existing law, the proposed amendments provide for the courts to direct the respondent to take part in a counselling or treatment programme, and to grant temporary sole custody of a child born or jointly adopted by the complainant and the respondent to the complainant or to another suitable custodian.

"It is also an important feature that the bill . . . requires a notification of any breach of a protection order by a police officer who opens the docket to the clerk of the court which issued the protection order to ensure that a notation is entered on the relevant file," Dausab said during her motivation statement in the NA.

She said the bill also clarifies that protection orders and criminal charges can be pursued simultaneously and places a duty on police officers who open dockets in respect of a domestic violence complaint to advise a complainant of the possibility of applying for a protection order while the criminal charge is pending.

Dausab said the amendment bill is a demonstration that the government is making a "conscientious effort to address issues of gender-based violence across the country". 

She said combating violence against women and children is "neither optional nor an act of charity", but the right thing to do.

The minister said even though the law would not be the ultimate solution to domestic violence, it provides an important framework and sufficient scope for protection while emphasising the importance of engaging men and boys as agents and beneficiaries of change to combat domestic violence.

"Although much more needs to be done to put an end to violence against vulnerable persons in Namibia, the tabling of the amendment bill is an important step in that direction and enables policymakers to take the lead to changing the attitudinal and social patterns and to raise increased awareness about the rights of women and children," Dausab said.

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