Domestic violence still widespread
-US State Dep’t
Stabroek News
April 6, 2003

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The US State Department’s 2002 Human Rights Report on Guyana finds that violence against women, including domestic violence, is still widespread with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) reporting “that domestic violence crossed racial and socio-economic lines.”

“Despite efforts by NGOs and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to sensitise police officers to domestic violence, the police often were hesitant to interfere in cases of domestic disputes.”

It says that according to Help and Shelter (H&S), the first local NGO dedicated to fighting domestic violence, it handled 375 cases of abuse, including child, spousal, non-spousal, and other domestic abuse between January and September.

The Domestic Violence Act defines domestic violence, establishes it as a crime, and gives women the right to seek prompt protection. Magistrates may issue interim protection orders when a victim of abuse, a police officer, or a social worker fills out an application for protection. A magistrate then evaluates the case and decides whether to replace interim orders with permanent orders. The act allows victims to seek protection, occupation, or tenancy orders. Protection orders prohibit abusers from being anywhere that the applicant lives, works, visits, or attends school. If protective orders are violated, the abuser could be fined up to $54 (G$10,000) and imprisoned for up to 12 months. However, the report says that the legislation is frequently not enforced.

The report says that the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) criticises the structure of the Domestic Violence Act, stating that the law could not be implemented until appointments have been made to the Women’s Affairs Bureau. In addition, it says, the GHRA reported that the forms needed to request court orders were printed infrequently and were rarely available to the public.

It also cites the criticism of the UN Human Rights Committee issued in March 2000 which notes “the lack of information about the effect of the Domestic Violence Act in reducing the level of violence against women”.

“The committee called for training police and other law enforcement personnel in the importance of ensuring that women who were victims of violence were accorded equal protection and that preventive and punitive measures were enforced.”

The report says that in 2001 the Government held 2-week training seminars for police officers to sensitise them to the issues and advise them about procedures. “The authorities required officers who received training to conduct outreach to other officers.”

The report notes the efforts of H&S to combat domestic violence, which it says focuses “on societal re-education in order to sensitise the public to domestic violence”. It says that by February 2001, H&S had counselled 3,872 persons since it began offering counselling services in November 1995 and that it had reported that 79.2 percent of its cases from January to October involved spousal abuse.

The report cites rape, particularly of girls and young women, as another serious problem, which is infrequently reported or prosecuted. “Health professionals and NGOs also reported a high incidence of incest.”

It reports lawyers as saying, “While more victims reported these crimes to the authorities, there still was a social stigma applied to the victim for doing so.” It says that an estimated 3 per cent of cases reported to H&S were rape cases; the vast majority of these-70 per cent-were reported by victims aged 17 and under.

It says too that while there is no legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace, the law prohibits dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy, and dismissal on such grounds did not occur in practice.

It says of the Women’s Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Labour, which monitors the legal rights of women, “its role [is] limited to employment-related services.”

Another agency, the Women’s Leadership Insti-tute, a collaborative effort between the Government and the U.N. Development Pro-gramme, it says, is seeking “through education and training to facilitate greater participation by women in government and the private sector.” The centre plans to train an average of 350 women annually on issues such as women’s rights, status of women, violence against women, and leadership development. In September 2001, 100 women began the first phase of the program, which involved 15 hours per week of training for 4 months.

In looking at the 1997 Anti-Discrimination Act the report says that it built upon the provisions of the 1990 Equal Rights Act. “The two laws provide a strengthened framework under which women and minorities may seek redress for discriminatory acts or practices. However, no case ever has been tried under the Equal Rights Act, and critics of the Anti- Discrimination Act claimed that it was unlikely to be effective since it places enforcement responsibilities on the overburdened Chief Labour Officer”.

The report notes the protection the law provides is for “women’s property rights in common-law marriages and entitles a woman who separates or divorces to one-half the couple’s property if she had been working and one-third of the property if she had been a housewife.” It also notes, “The courts may overturn a husband’s will in the event that it does not provide for his wife, as long as she was dependent on him for financial support”.

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