penalising domestic voilence


Over the past 15 years, the United Nations has made a concerted effort to bring the problem of domestic violence into the open. It has requested its Member States to adopt short and long-term strategies that will protect victims and to adopt preventative measures to eliminate  its incidence.  These recommendations were made at the 1986 expert group meeting on violence in the family organised by the Division for the Advancement of Women and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch of the United Nations Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. 

A number of countries have made the elimination of domestic violence against women a national priority.  The challenge in the 1990s will be to make the penalization of domestic violence a priority in all United Nations Member States and place it at the top of the agenda of the international community. 

Such a campaign would call for the adoption of legislation to protect women from violence and the enforcement of penalties for violence against women in the family, at work, and in society as a whole.  It would also necessitate the creation of a network of support services for victims, including shelters or other similar crisis centres for battered women, free legal aid, welfare services and financial support.  Training programmes on the dynamics of family violence for judiciary, health and social service personnel, as well as law enforcement officers, would help to ensure humane treatment of victims.  Helping re-employ abused women and creating appropriate deterrent and corrective measures would also be required. 

Longer term measures that would help curtail domestic violence include comprehensive legislative reforms and legal literacy programmes for women to protect them and ensure their rights;  greater economic independence of women that would give them equal status within marriage, and a change in the educational system so that it would condemn domestic violence outright, promote equality between spouses, and encourage peaceful approaches to conflict resolution.  Below are some examples : 

  • In Argentina, the democratically elected Government which took power in 1983 began a campaign against domestic violence, supporting self-help groups for battered women which offer medical, legal and psychological assistance. 

  • In Australia, major reforms in federal criminal law recently classified domestic violence as an assault, which, as such, is subject to police intervention.  In addition, a nation-wide education programme has been launched and training is now offered to professional groups dealing with abused women.  Some 43,000 Australian women and their children sought refuge in shelters in 1986-87. 

  • In Costa Rica, the Government has made abuse of women illegal as a first step towards curtailing it. 

  • In Zimbabwe, the Musasa Project, set up in 1998 in Harare, for the first time provides support and counselling to women who have been beaten or raped by their husbands or lovers and informs them of their legal rights and legal procedures. 

It is also essential to focus world attention on the urgency of community education to raise public awareness of the seriousness of the crime of domestic violence and to begin changing social attitudes towards it.  In the United States, the incidence of violence dropped significantly between 1975 and 1985 as a result of changed attitudes and behaviour towards women which accompanied measures designed to curtail the incidence of domestic violence. 

The international community, led by the United Nations, could play a key role in monitoring domestic violence on a country-by-country basis, sponsoring research on the relationship between the portrayal of violence against women in the mass media and the actual incidence of violence against women in the family and society, and organising conferences that would sensitise public opinion and regularly focus world attention on family violence.

Source :  United Nations New York 1991 : Women : Challenges to the year 2000