No excuse for abuse!

Date: January 1, 1970
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Take a look through any newspaper in Southern Africa. You will likely to see a number of headlines telling of the latest incidences of domestic abuse. Radio and television broadcasts in the region are all awash with reports of incest, defilement, rape, and murder. Most of these are committed in homes, and most victims are women and children. If the home is not a safe and secure place, then where else can be safe?

The struggle to get domestic violence legislation passed to help protect women and children is daunting. Only a handful of countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have specific Domestic Violence Acts in place. These include Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia and Seychelles.
The yet to be assented Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill in Malawi has important aspects like orders for protection, occupancy and tenancy. It also gives powers to the police to enter homes and apprehend the culprits if there is domestic violence. It provides for payment of fines as high as K1 million ($7,500) and custodial sentences for culprits, depending on the gravity of the abuse.
Marital rape, psychological torture and economic abuse are also incorporated.  This is commendable since it will also help protect the more vulnerable parties from HIV. It also provides for counseling for both perpetrators and victims in Malawi.
Like all gender-based violence, domestic abuse has physical, social and economic dimensions. Social pressures and lack of economic empowerment make it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. Even within families, abuse is a secret.
When people are beating or killing each other in a home, nobody is supposed to interfere, no matter the consequences. If somebody tries to intervene, then it’s seen as trespassing! 
Is this a joke or part of moral decay? One wonders where morality in Southern Africa is going, a region that at one time boasted of richness in and respect for tradition.
Many strange things are happening in our homes but we keep on behaving as if everything is normal.  How did such a thing as violence in our homes become normal, something dismissed as ‘one of those things’?
With this attitude, are we not encouraging this kind of behaviour?  As parents, we need to ask ourselves about the future of our children.  What will their homes/families be like?  Are we going to marry them off to abusive husbands/wives and pretend all will be well?
Domestic violence cases have been on the increase in the region with victims rendered helpless due to lack of proper legal mechanisms to address the problems.  Should we just sit and watch as if nothing serious is happening, pretending all is well?
We should be extremely worried today as mothers and fathers for the future.  We need to be proactive to promote family values and that marriage should not lose its value.  Yes, that it should be enjoyable and harmonious.  
It is in this context that we need to salute the steps taken by civil society, working in collaboration with governments, to address this issue by enacting prevention of domestic violence bills.
It is pleasing to note that the laws enacted to stop domestic violence in some countries give direction for legal redress if there is violence in homes. They protect everybody in the home regardless of sex or age. They are there as a deterrent and not a punishment.
What about other countries in the region who have not yet enacted this law? Do you condone these acts? Time has come for the region to take stock of itself and do something.
The next challenge for countries with legislation in place is implementation. Let’s learn from history and work on notable problems. So many cases have gone unreported due to ignorance, tradition and poverty, among other issues in our society.
We appeal to governments who haven’t yet enacted prevention of domestic violence laws to do so quickly and those that have to put their money where their mouth is.  We are tired of hearing stories of defilement of three months old babies or parents marrying their own children!  Your action today, peaceful homes tomorrow!!     

Eunice Chipangula is Deputy Director General of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Chair of the Gender and Media Malawi or GEMMA Network. This article is part of a special series of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service produced ahead of the SADC Heads of State summit in Lesotho from 17-18 August by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance comprising ten NGOs that promote gender equality in the region.

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