Domestic violence act must be made more effective
- protection forms to be shared to police stations

Stabroek News
March 8, 2000

The human rights association GHRA says that urgent steps are needed to ensure that the Domestic Violence Act begins to address the problems it was established to counter.

Meanwhile, signatories of the Men Against Violence Against Women Campaign will distribute copies of the Protection Order forms for the Domestic Violence Act to some 36 police stations to commemorate International Women's Day today.

A press statement from the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), said the action was coordinated by the association and intended to highlight the slow pace of implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

According to GHRA, eradicating domestic violence was one of the highest priorities to emerge from the Beijing conference and the post-Beijing assessments.

GHRA said that while government honoured the priority by passing the Domestic Violence Act, the impact of the legislation has been insignificant because several key administrative measures have not been implemented by the ministry responsible for women's affairs. These include the unavailability of forms, the failure to gazette social workers to apply protection orders; failure to gazette counselling organisations and the failure to appoint the Director of Human Services who is charged under the Act with a wide range of key functions.

GHRA added that other obstacles to effective implementation on the part of the Guyana Police Force relate to the failure to allocate confidential areas of each police station to ensure "utmost privacy", the systematic compilation of records and specialised training of officers to address domestic violence issues.

Information generated by the consultative process prior to the passing of the Act revealed the widespread and deep-seated nature of the problem, said GHRA. Alcohol was constantly identified as a major related factor.

GHRA opined that transforming Guyanese culture to eliminate the manifestations of domestic violence was a major task requiring a focused and systematic response. Apart from the strictly legal aspects of the Domestic Violence Act, the concept of `undertaking' orders, provides a tool for religious communities and the NGOs which are active in the areas of reconciliation and counselling. The `undertaking' procedure, said GHRA could serve as a salutary warning to bring men to their senses before serious legal action was instituted. Action to address the widespread abuse of alcohol, especially in rural communities, was another dimension of domestic violence yet to be addressed, GHRA said.

It expressed concern that the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act was taking second place to a range of other projects addressing women's leadership, training and awareness-raising issues, none of which had the priority, nor the time-bound commitment to implementation of the provisions of the domestic violence Act, said GHRA.

According to the organisation, rather than focus on the Act as a priority, the recent decision to involve the energies of a wide range of agencies in the discussions to create a national plan on women's issues, suggests implementation was receding into the distance. GHRA opined that the Domestic Violence Act itself should serve as a framework for a plan of action.

The GHRA is calling on the relevant authorities to recognise that the impact of the Domestic Violence Act to date is negligible and to take necessary steps to ensure that the Act begins to address the problems for which it was brought into being.