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Domestic Violence Law a Step Forward

Editorial, The Nation (Nairobi), 3 November 2000

Nairobi - The enthusiasm over the publication of the Domestic Violence Bill is understandable - considering the long road that rights campaigners have travelled to move family and home conflicts from the private domain to the legal realm.

In the past year alone, the media reported some 50 deaths and 69 injuries from domestic violence. In the year before, the Federation of International Women Lawyers reported that 60 women had been killed in domestic violence. Three in every five women in Nairobi report being assaulted at home.

These are alarming statistics. But reports alone represent just the surface of the problem. There are many cases of domestic violence that are either not reported or remain hidden from the media and the authorities for various reasons. The widespread incidence of violence in homes, whether reported, concealed or ignored, has a very real and significant effect on the country - manifested in increased expenditure on health to treat injuries and loss of working hours.

It is gratifying that the new Bill combines retribution and deterrence in its attempt to end violence in the home. If passed into law, the Bill will empower courts to order violent spouses or other family members out of the home and seek compensation and protection for victims.

More importantly, however, the Bill for the first time offers a specific definition of domestic violence, covering physical, sexual and mental abuse and harassment. It also sets out compensation as well as redress mechanisms and establishes a fund to help victims by offering counselling and medical treatment.

It has been argued that there already exist laws that can deal with some of the cases of domestic violence but which have not been fully used. Also, it is important that over and above passing laws, the situation is unlikely to radically change if there are no supporting structures to nurture a culture of respect for the human rights of spouses, children and other family members.

The government has shown its willingness to stamp out domestic violence through this important first step. It must now show commitment to enforce that law.

We at the Nation are happy to have been involved in the campaign to bring the phenomenon of violence in the homes onto the national agenda. As those who defend human rights savour this initial victory, it is important to remember that the war is not yet won.

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