The dream of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) and other interest groups for the passage of the three year-old Domestic Violence Bill before the National Legislature at the Capitol Building seems close, but yet so far from reality.
Lawmakers from both the House of Representatives and Senate although reached a common ground to take the bill to committee room(s) for further discussions on its elements due to some ‘glitches’ discovered while examining its contents during a one-day working session held at a resort in Harbel, Margibi County.
This means that the two parties failed to reach a deal that could position the draft law for instant passage after it had become ‘dusty’ at the Capitol since being introduced in 2016 by the Domestic Violence Task Force chaired by the Ministry of Gender and co-chaired by the Ministry of Justice, despite persistent lobbies by stakeholders, including the civil society.
The symposium at the weekend was organized by the Gender Ministry with assistance from UN Women and other partners to brainstorm and further x-ray the bill to pave the way for possible passage into law as is being pushed by the Executive Branch of government via the gender ministry.
What the Domestic Violence Bill seeks is an amendment of “Subchapter Chapter A. Domestic Violence” to “Section 1: Title 26 of the Penal Law of Liberia Chapter 16; Liberian Code of Laws Revised” which reference offenses against family.
At the event, lawmakers basically argued that some provisions in the proposed law that place emphasis on female genital mutilation (FGM) and other traditional practices be harmonized, and that punitive actions therein be reviewed before the bill can sail smoothly through the Capitol.
All this followed the ‘thought’ and rather vehement concerns raised by the head of the Traditional Council of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Karwor, urging the government to take its hands off certain cultural practices and leave them to the “indigenous” people, and in case of quashing a certain portions of the culture, concrete alternatives for the [traditional] people must be first set forth.
Under the spotlight was Section 16.1 (l) of the bill that states that “female genital mutilation on a person under the age of 18 or person 18 years old or over without their consent; or (m): “Any other controlling or abusive behavior towards a person where they conduct harms, or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of a person in a domestic relationship, including harmful traditional practices such as being forced to join a secret society, prohibited or not prohibited by the government, or being subjected to certain forms of cultural torture prohibited like “sassy-wood” as defined in local government rules and regulations, or other trial by ordeal.”
Furthermore, Section 16.22 of the bill provides that “a single act herein may amount to domestic violence against a person or a number of acts that form a pattern of behavior may amount to domestic violence.”
Another factor was a provision in the Children Law of Liberia that seems to come into conflict with the Domestic Violence Bill in terms of similarity on the protection of children and stipulated legal punitive measures and actions.
Consequently, these revelations caused lawmakers to become more cautious about proceedings or moving ‘quickly’ to give their final blessing to the bill that it be signed and printed into handbill by the Executive branch to become law.
While she expressed some disappointment over the renewed hurdle in the attempt to expedite the passage of the bill, Gender Minster Williametta Saydee-Tarr expressed optimism the instrument will be passed into law in the soonest possible time once the document had been further debated and needed changes made to it.
“We are advocating, from the Gender Ministry’s side, that hopefully we can get the full bill passed. And because of the intervention of the traditional leader, they (lawmakers) are also asking why don’t we go ahead and have a standard lone bill on the FGM.
“And this will include engaging the traditional leaders that, they along with the ministry and our international partners, carry on consultations in the ten (10) counties where this act is being practiced to make sure that we can make some steps towards eradicating the harmful part of our practices, and, of course, by enhancing and keeping the most beautiful part of our culture,” said Minister Tarr.
When passed into law, the document will be important in the deterrence of acts of gender-based violence in the country as well as project a positive image of the society once its full implementation is enforced by the State, Minister Tarr said in an earlier briefing at the session also attended by representatives from the civil society, Association of Female Lawyers, Liberia Children Forum, and diplomatic missions and UN family in the country.
Meanwhile, civil society actor Tamba F. Johnson told the Liberia News Agency on the sidelines of the session that the “abrupt” calling off of the Farmington session due to issues surrounding the handling of FGM and related cultural practices in the bill was a lesson learnt.
As national coordinator of “HeforShe” Crusaders Working Group against FGM, he believes that more engagement with the traditional/cultural leaders cannot be overemphasized, vowing to work to draft an “exclusive and comprehensive” bill concerning female genital cutting in the next couple of months.
Speaking generally of the Domestic Violence Bill, Johnson said it will protect everyone, including girls, women, boys, and men in society from harm and unfair treatment irrespective of gender, sex, or age.
“It beats my imagination to know that, for example, one will pour acid on another because of call to end a relationship, or engage in persistent non-support to children, or cause psychological torture of children in the home due to constant violence between their parents,” he said.
However, it remains unclear when further deliberations will take place on the bill in either plenary of the Legislature, although they cited a possibility for sanctioning public hearing on the bill “if the need arises.”