Weak laws blamed for domestic violence in Uganda

The existence of weak laws is partly to blame for the rising cases of domestic violence in the country global campaigners against violence against women said yesterday.

The WE CAN campaigners under Oxfam, a non-governmental organisation at the fore of the fight against domestic violence, decried the level of violence against women and girls and called for tougher laws to curb the vice.

It is necessary, they said, that the government urgently passes into law the shelved Domestic Relations Bill so as to protect the lives of women and girls against abuse.

“Parliament needs to urgently pass the Domestic Relations Bill so that the offenders can be brought to book,” said Savio Carvalho Oxfam GB–Uganda, Country Director at the imperial Botanical Beach Hotel on Friday.

While domestic violence is on the increase, there was no specific law in the country on domestic violence, Susan Akajo, the gender-based violence programme manager noted.


Uganda shelves domestic violence bill

And now… it is unbelievable but true. The Domestic Relations Bill has been shelved for over 40 years! This is according to reports in the media, following a petition to Parliament by women activists demanding that the government passes all pending bills that address violence against women and girls early this week.

It is saddening to know that despite the chronic and widespread nature of domestic violence in Uganda, there are no specific laws that provide Ugandan women with any meaningful protection against it, yet as reported in the media, the Domestic Relations Bill, has gathered dust in Parliament for more than a decade!

Every other day, gruesome cases are reported resulting from domestic violence. One morning in 1997, the country woke up to the gruesome murder where Kooky Sharma, a Kampala businessman, murdered his wife Renu Joshi by inflicting electric burns all over her body. Sharma was sentenced to death in 2001 and on April 15, 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict.

Headlines in the media like ‘Man burns to death his children and wife’; ‘Man beheads wife, slits the wife’s throat’, among others, are the order of the day in this country. And many more are never reported!

The Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills have become more than a necessity in society today because without laws against domestic violence, we shall continue loosing lives of innocent citizens especially women and girls.

The Domestic Relations Bill should be given top priority and treated like all such other important Bills. Isn’t there anyone in Parliament who sees the need to have this and all other related Bills passed?

I vividly remember when HIV/Aids was just beginning to bite, and despite the government’s positive commitment to confront the crisis then, there were people, some of them decision makers, who ignored the fact that people living with HIV/Aids were being stigmatised.

But before anyone would realise, HIV/Aids was knocking at everyone’s door. Children, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, friends, neighbours etc were all being affected by the disease and it was then that it became everyone’s concern!

Just like HIV/Aids manifested itself over the years, the failure to pass the Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills will lead to increased manifestation of violence across the country.

The result will be many deaths and by the time we wake up, it will be costly to start changing people’s perceptions about the violence.

It is cheaper for everyone to start fighting domestic violence than leave it to get entrenched in people’s mind such that before they know its gravity, it will have affected everyone.

On Heroes Day celebrations recently, President Yoweri Museveni reportedly re-affirmed his commitment to seeing Parliament pass the Land Bill. Mr President Sir, also re-affirm your commitment to having the Domestic Relations Bill and other violence-related bills passed as well.

Though the government has been widely credited for emphasising girls and women empowerment in policy-making, many customary and statutory laws still discriminate against them.

My understanding is that the government is supposed to protect all citizens. But by failing to limit the impunity with which domestic violence occurs, it appears that the state is implicitly condoning it.

The government should enact domestic violence legislation that, at a minimum, provides for punitive measures with a view to curbing domestic violence.

It is high time legislators took the problem of domestic violence seriously. If the lawmakers do not pass the Domestic Relations Bill now, more and more lives are will be lost.

And this is an issue that should not be left to the women legislators alone, it is a matter that all legislators should accord the seriousness it deserves.

Opinion Olivia Lumonya


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