Angola: Domestic Violence Act allows for third party reporting

Date: October 23, 2012
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Domestically abused women who are financially dependent on their abusers can now report the crime with the assurance that they will be able to get financial and medical support from the state, thanks to the country’s new law on domestic violence. Women’s campaigners have welcomed the introduction of the new law, which was signed into the statute books on the 8 July 2011. The Act criminalises domestic violence and offers protection to victims and their families.

The law guarantees support to victims, through safe houses, medical treatment and financial and legal help. In addition, violence has been designated as a “public crime”, which means anyone can report it to the police, not just the victim.

“Giving other people the right to report domestic violence also helps because victims may be ashamed of their situations and may not want to speak up about what is happening to them,” said Suzana Mendes, editor of the Luanda-based private weekly newspaper Angolense and a leading member of the Angolan Forum of Women Journalists, which lobbied extensively for the new law.

The legislation, ten years in the making, articulates new definitions of domestic violence, which include withholding food from a child, failing to adequately support a pregnant woman and sexually abusing a minor or elderly person in your care. Traditional marriages with girls under the age of 14 are outlawed and there are new laws around family finances, giving women more rights to inheritance and family money.

Sizaltina Cutaia, from the Angolan office of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, welcomed the legislation. “As a country in general we do not have very good records in terms of law enforcement and there too many examples to show that,” she said. “I think that the adoption of the law is a great starting point but there needs to be resources allocated to provide training to police officers (both male and female) as well as to educate the population, particularly women and girls, about the content of the law and the processes that one needs follow in order to report violence.”

There are no concrete statistics for levels of domestic violence in Angola, partly because until now there has been no legal definition, and any incidents that are reported have been recorded as normal assaults.

Mendes agrees with Cutaia that it is only the beginning. “Now we have the law,” she said. “But it is only the first step. We need the media and civil society to make a big campaign to tell people about it and explain to people about their rights. It’s important this happens countrywide and that any publicity material is translated into all languages, not just Portuguese, to make sure we reach all communities, not just those people in the urban centres, but the people in rural villages too.”

Angola’s Minister for Women and Family Promotion, Genoveva Lino, who led the fight to criminalise domestic violence for a number of years, described the new legislation as a “victory for all Angolans” that would “help build stronger and more stable family units.”

The Angolan Domestic Violence Act is the first in the region that allows for third party reporting of domestic violence. It promotes a culture of a collective community responsibility for preventing and dealing with domestic violence. It will be interesting to track how the legislation is implemented and how it can be replicated by other SADC member states.

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