. . . as parly approves Counter Domestic Violence Bill
LESOTHO has moved a step closer to enacting the much-anticipated law to address rampant domestic violence crimes in the country.
This after the National Assembly on Tuesday approved the Counter Domestic Violence Bill, 2021.
The bill has been pending since it was tabled in April 2021 by Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Minister Likeleli Tampane.
The bill is meant to provide for the protection of the rights of victims and prevention of domestic violence and related matters.
There were jubilant scenes when Ms Tampane tabled the bill in parliament last year. At the time, the minister told fellow MPs that the bill defines domestic violence as “an act or behaviour which inflicts pain and injury on another person physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally, psychologically and economically”.
“We should really be proud today because we have been successful in presenting this bill after 20 years of work,” Ms Tampane said to loud cheers and ululations by fellow MPs at the time.
But the cheers and ululations quickly died down and for more than 10 months, there was no movement despite Ms Tampane’s frequent pleas to legislators to approve the bill.
As recently as two weeks ago, she made an impassioned plea to her colleagues to stop procrastinating and swiftly approve the bill.
She said in all the months that the legislators had dilly-dallied, domestic violence had continued to rise alarmingly. Her ministry was extremely worried by the upsurge in domestic violence hence the need to pass the bill to deal with the scourge, she said.
“Police reports have shown that the cases of domestic violence in families and communities in general have increased since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 and we find this very disturbing as a ministry.
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“I am pleading with this house to pass this bill which will help protect the nation against such cruelty, especially the crimes against vulnerable people.
“As the ministry responsible, we have done our part by drafting the bill to help combat these crimes. We are now asking for the support from this august house. Abuse makes for a sad nation and it also affects the country’s economy. It is our collective responsibility to stand together and fight abuse in all its forms,” Ms Tampane said.
Her pleas were finally heard this week when the bill was approved by MPs on Tuesday.
In his address to fellow MPs this week, the chairperson for the parliamentary social cluster, Faku Moshoeshoe, said the bill sought to abolish abusive practices which degraded children and women such as forced marriages, the practice of marrying off widows to brothers of their deceased husbands and the practice of marrying off men to their infertile wives’ sisters. It also seeks to criminalise incest, in particular sexual relations between parents and their children.
“The bill will apply to people who are in a domestic relationship and it also recognises the discrimination experienced by certain groups of people by virtue of their age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The bill affords victims protection in the form of court orders known as protection orders to prohibit perpetrators from doing certain acts,” Mr Moshoeshoe said.
The bill is expected to provide for the establishment of a family court to handle cases arising out of family squabbles as well as hear cases of domestic violence. It also provides for the establishment of restorative justice councils where proceedings will be guided by village chiefs.
Prior to the bill’s approval, Reformed Congress for Lesotho (RCL) leader Keketso Rantšo also spoke out, saying it was long overdue.
“The bill is long overdue and we have been waiting for a long time for it to be passed into law. In the meantime, domestic violence has been happening in our homes and people have no protection. I also suggest that social workers be appointed and stationed at every council office to attend to affected people,” Ms Rantšo said.
National Independent Party (NIP) leader Kimetso Mathaba also voiced his support for the bill.
“I support the adoption of this bill because it will help with restorative justice through the establishment of family courts which will speed up the trying of domestic violence cases,” Ms Mathaba said.
Following its approval by the National Assembly, the bill will now be sent to the Senate for approval. Thereafter, it will be sent back to the National Assembly to make any necessary amendments, if so required, before being sent to His Majesty, King Letsie III to sign it into law.
The bill proposes stiff penalties for domestic violence and sexual offences.
“A person who coerces another to reproduce commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M20 000 or 15-year imprisonment or both.
“A person who forces a child into marriage commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M10 000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years or both.
“A person who commits physical abuse commits an offence and is liable on conviction to community service or a fine not exceeding M5000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or both,” the bill states.
The bill also says a person who exposes their genital organs commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding M2500 or one-year imprisonment or both.
“A person who, without the consent of another, comes in direct contact with (the) anus, breasts, penis, buttocks, thighs or vagina of another person or says sexual utterances, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M2500 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both.
“A person who uses technology to abuse a complainant commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding M5000 or to imprisonment for a period of three years or both,” the bill states.