The Domestic Violence Act, the Devolution of Estate Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, collectively referred to as the Gender Acts, were passed into law on June 14th 2007. The motivation behind the implementation of the acts is the need to ensure Sierra Leone’s compliance with its obligations under International Human Rights Instruments to which it is a signatory. In the context of the Gender Acts, the specific International Human Rights Instrument that is relevant is the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The passing of the acts into law makes headway into domesticating the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Since enactment, little has been done in the process of implementing the key provisions of the acts. Simply put, the process of implementation has been painfully slow. Problems include; little or no collaboration among the different organisations, local or international, that are working on gender related issues so as to coordinate and monitor the process properly. This has resulted in duplication of effort and to information not being well disseminated.
In response to these implementation problems, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA), launched the National Strategic Roll – Out plan on 25th of November, 2008 to be used in the implementation process. The MSWGCA are the agency charged with the promotion and protection of the welfare of women and eliminating the acceptability of violence and discrimination against women and girls. As a result of this mandate they are the lead agency in the implementation process. The plan does not only set out all the steps which need to be taken over the next three years, but it lays the basis for long term enforcement of the Gender Acts on a national scale.
The plan identifies numerous objectives and tasks that will need to be in place for the laws to be effective. It is identified that putting the laws into practice will require a long – term investment to challenging culturally ingrained practices that condone and sometimes perpetuate violence against women and girls. The roll – out plan is designed to ensure the meaningfulness of the acts by planning the inter – agency efforts needed to bring about behavioural changes combined with the strengthening of bodies charged with putting the new laws into action.
Nothing within the plan is concrete. Within all of the suggestions made on the best ways to ensure the effectiveness of the Gender Acts very few examples exist of real steps taken to undertake the work envisaged within the roll – out plan. Further, although the plan is lengthy it lacks detail in one key regard, namely, how it will go about achieving the multiple tasks set out.
The plan is divided into three sections: enforcement; public education and monitoring.
It is noted that domestic violence has been illegal for many years and yet very few prosecutions have been brought rather it continues to exist and acceptance is prevalent. In order to challenge this, potential perpetrators need to see that domestic violence is no longer acceptable and they will be punished if they inflict such harm. In order to ensure this occurs proper enforcement is crucial. Central co-ordination of the roll out plan, and in turn enforcement will be undertaken by MSWGC. Others identified in the plan as playing a significant role in enforcement include: Gender Division, the Child Welfare Secretariat, Social Welfare Division, FSU, Social Workers and Probation Officers. In order to achieve the objectives of the acts the MSWGC will need to ensure that all the relevant agencies are aware of their responsibilities under the act. The plan also identifies the need to ensure that there is adequate budgetary support.
The plan identifies as its key themes the need to ensure that those individuals who will take a leading role in enforcement are trained up fully on the workings of the act, have the resources they require to assist complainants, and more fundamentally, that there are enough professionals in place to take part in enforcement. In order to fulfil this objective the strengthening of the ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Social Affairs is necessary with a particular need to recruit more social workers due to their expanded role under the act. It is also identified that the MSWGCA needs to work closely with the Family Support Unit (FSU) to ensure that social workers attached to FSU offices are capable of playing a proactive role in enforcement. The MSWGCA will establish a mechanism for monitoring social workers activity and the social workers will be required to provide a monthly list of challenges and progress. There is a general desire within the plan that all stakeholders involved in enforcing the law and providing public education need to collect data about their activities and pass it unto MSWGCA. The training of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the chiefdom police is also viewed as essential for enforcement so that prosecutions can take place.
The ability of complainants under the gender acts to take their cases to court is another identified necessity as the acts include the provision of redress through the courts within them. To ensure that courts are fully prepared to hear cases it is proposed that copies of the Acts and their accompanying guidelines be distributed to all courts across the country. There will also need to be continuing education sessions held on the acts with Magistrates, Judges, Justices of the peace and local court chairmen. Measures will also need to be introduced to ensure that cases are processed expeditiously. Within the roll – out plan it is suggested that a special court be set aside for cases under the gender act and that an assigned judge be available constantly. Another suggestion is that cases under the Domestic Violence Act are fast tracked and that pre – formulated forms and orders be used. There is also the need to ensure that complainants under the act are able to obtain legal assistance. The MSWGCA will work with bodies currently providing some legal aid or paralegal services to ensure they assist complainants under the Gender Acts.
Provision for redress within the local community e.g. local courts is not included within the 3 acts, however in order to challenge the acceptability of violence and discrimination against women, complainants under the gender acts need to be able to access provisions of the acts through those mechanisms. The suggestion is made to look into the possibility of incorporating provisions of the new legislation into local byelaws. As with the police force, training sessions need to be held for MPs, paramount chiefs, chiefdom speakers, section chiefs, village and town chiefs, quarter heads, tribal heads, council elders, mammy queens, youth chairmen, religious leaders and district and local councillors.
Enforcement issues specific to the Domestic Violence Act 2007
Section 7 of the Domestic Violence Act states that a victim assisted by the police is entitled to free medical treatment, due to the severe lack of medical care nationwide this will be hard to provide. In order to overcome this problem it is suggested that the ministry of health needs to integrate treatment of domestic violence into basic healthcare provision. It is also suggested that medical officers need to be identified and trained in the treatment of domestic violence. The same section of the act also entitles victims to a free medical report to be provided within 14 days. To ensure the provision of this, the uniform requirements that each medical report needs to fulfil should be identified in advance. Further, a maximum fee for the production of medical reports should be set and other medical officers such as midwives should be certified in the identification of domestic violence in addition to providing testimony. Doctors currently entitled to provide medical reports need to be trained. A training manual focusing on domestic and sexual violence for medical service providers needs to be developed to include a section on ethics amongst other things.
The importance of safe homes is discussed within the plan as there needs to be a place for those suffering from Domestic violence to go. Two safe homes are currently being built. Funding needs to be assessed for further homes and a framework on the provision and management of safe homes needs to be established. However, the building of safe homes may not be enough and as a result additional protection measures need to be discussed, there is especially a need to develop a system of protection at village level. The need to encourage individual lawyers to bring test cases under the Domestic Violence Act is also suggested.
Enforcement issues specific to the Devolution of Estates Act
Cases under the Act are supposed to be heard in the High Court, however within the roll – out plan it is considered important to ensure that the provisions of the act are applied before the issues reach the court room. To achieve this it is important to ensure that there is easy access to letters of administration and that widespread sensitization is carried out so that women know their rights under the Act and Community members respect and assist them in obtaining those rights. A mechanism to mediate cases is also recommended, the suggestion is that this should possibly take place within the family casework section of the MSWGCA.
Consideration is also made as to problems that may arise in the enforcement of the role out plan in relation to the Devolution of Estates Act. Firstly there may be an absence of correct documentation for land registration and there may be poor date collection, lack of access to impartial property evaluations and a preference for customary successors amongst other things. The roll – out plan also suggests that an amendment to the law should be made. Currently under the act offences are to be tried by the High Court, however because of the nature of the cases and the punishment level, these matters could be heard in the magistrates court which would make protections intended by the act more accessible to ordinary people across the country. To achieve this MSWGCA will seek to have this section amended.
The plan then moves on to children, who are supposed to be supported under section 5 of the Act. A system needs to be put in place to determine responsibility for providing maintenance for children and an avenue to enforce entitlement. Further, the act needs to be amended so that informally adopted children are not excluded.
Enforcement issues specific to the Registration of Customary Marriage Act 2007
In the plan, the view is taken that there are some technical difficulties with the Registration of Customary Marriage Act and amendments need to be made. The high levels of illiteracy and poverty in Sierra Leone will likely pose logistical problems to the registration of marriages. MSWGCA will work towards taking registration to district headquarter and chiefdom level. The long term goal is to have a record of registration at national level and the short term goal will be to maintain databases at district level. In order to cover the administration costs of the registration of marriage there needs to be a fee, which is suggested to be 5,000 le rising to 10,000 if registration is not completed within 6 months.
The MSWGC hopes to develop a widespread understanding of the Gender Acts leading to a gradual absorption of the laws and provisions into acceptable norms of behaviour at community and individual level. In order to achieve this objective, public education is viewed as important.
Public education will be on a national scale and will be implemented using community meetings across the country at local level. Integrate discussion of the 3 new laws into the national curriculum and teacher training curriculum, radio programming, community cinema projections, music and leaflets amongst other things will also be undertaken. In regards to the Child Rights Act, priority targets include; medical service providers, religious leaders, women leaders, teachers, human rights groups, media institutions, traditional leaders, MPs, councillors and vulnerable groups. It was also identified that men and women need to absorb the same messages.
Data Collection and Monitoring
Data collection and monitoring is to be prioritised from the outset as within the plan it is viewed as important for assessing the extent to which the implementation of the roll – out plan is being achieved. The Human Rights Commission will be playing a key role in monitoring implementation as well as the MSWGCA. Monitoring of behavioural change will not take place as this entails a very long term process which will take many years beyond the scope of the 3 year plan. MSWGCA have identified that they will need to monitor social workers’ activity and use them to collect information about the extent implementation is being achieved and where the challenges lie. The FSU/SLP is envisaged taking a leading role in tracking reported cases and how such cases are being handled. Local councils will need to collect data on registered marriages. Information will be gathered from the courts, district councils, social workers and other relevant stakeholders to be brought to a monthly meeting at national level. The data provided at the meetings will be used to track progress on the roll – out work plan. It will also be useful to determine whether changes need to be made to the roll - out plan and to look at any potential funding gaps.
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 October 2009 22:49