Domestic violence blights too many relationships and families around the world, but at least the law is on the side of the victims – in most countries, at least.
Tennessee was the first US state to explicitly make wife beating illegal, all the way back in 1850, and the UK was close behind when it passed the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1878, which allowed women to legally separate from abusive husbands. Since then, laws in western countries have continued to develop and adapt to protect the victims of domestic abuse, both male and female.
Sadly, changes in the law have not resulted in the eradication of domestic violence from our homes. Twenty people are assaulted by their current partner or ex-partner every minute in the US, yet more than half of these incidents go unreported. While men are generally more likely to be the victims of violent crime, when it comes to domestic violence, 85% of the victims are women.
At least in the US, the UK and other western countries, women and men who are victims of domestic violence have the option of going to the police, even if many of them find this too difficult to contemplate. In many parts of the world, however, the victims of domestic abuse do not have this same legal protection, because the country where they live has not yet made domestic abuse illegal.
Below is a list of 15 countries where domestic abuse is still legal.
15. Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, lags a long way behind most countries, when it comes to women’s rights, and defending women against domestic assaults. In fact, they currently only have one law which relates, specifically to violence against women, and this only applies to female students at school. The law is designed to protect them against female genital mutilation, a worthy cause, but far from enough to tackle domestic abuse in a country where women are still very much perceived as the property of their husbands. Women are unlikely to report any assaults in the home because of the social stigma of separation, the way the authorities handle such complaints, and the fact that no financial support is available for women who want to pursue their case.
The Caribbean island of Haiti has a lot of problems – not least, the prevalence of domestic violence, and the lack of action which is taken by the government to protect victims or prosecute their attackers. UN sources state that 70% of Haitian women have been affected by gender-based violence, and that many of those cases are domestic assaults. Women are more likely to be financially dependent on their husbands in this poverty-stricken country, which means they are less likely to report assaults to the police, and even if they did, the police are much more likely to take the attacker’s side in the dispute, especially in rural areas.
Although Lebanon passed its first domestic violence law in 2014, critics have said that the legislation doesn’t go far enough, and that many victims remain unprotected. The definition of domestic violence used in the legislation is too narrow, according to experts, and does not even make violent domestic assaults a crime, focusing instead on forced begging and prostitution, and the use of threats to coerce sex. This is despite a local domestic violence support group receiving over 2,600 calls every year about domestic violence. Any new legislation in this area is welcome, but how helpful will it really be for Lebanese women in violent relationships?
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by civil war and rebellions in recent years, which means that law and order has also suffered. Not only is domestic violence not a crime in its own right, but there is no law against rape by a husband or partner. Spousal rape has long been accepted as part and parcel of married life by traditional Congolese culture, and the legal system here has yet to catch up with the rest of the world. Sadly, the lack of any legal consequences for attackers means that domestic violence is highly prevalent and sexual and physical abuse of young women, and even children in the family home, is also tacitly accepted by older males.
Women in Armenia remain unprotected by the law against domestic violence, although the authorities in this Eurasian country, formerly part of the USSR, are starting to take the issue more seriously. The UN has welcomed steps taken by the Armenian police to set up departments dedicated to handling domestic violence cases, even though any that make it to court continue to be treated as common assaults. There were attempts in 2014 to pass new domestic violence legislation, but the draft law was ditched for being too “European” and contradictory to the Armenian traditions, which women in the country have endured for centuries.
10. Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast is another African country which is recovering from years of civil war, and which is only now beginning to address the issues facing her ordinary citizens every day – including domestic violence. There is no legislation addressing domestic violence, despite statistics from the 2012 Demographic Health Survey, which indicates that over a quarter of all Ivory Coast women have been the victim of domestic abuse. More worrying is that, half the woman who reported being assaulted by their partner said that they thought the violence had been justified – because they had argued with him, refused to have sex, or because they burned dinner!
Egypt may be a popular tourist destination for visitors from the west, but its laws, especially in relation to domestic violence, are firmly entrenched in the country’s Muslim traditions. While there is no specific legislation to deal with domestic abuse cases, women who are brave enough to face the social stigma of reporting their husbands to the police could see him charged with a general assault. The complication in Egypt is that Sharia law allows acts that have been committed in “good faith”, and this clause has been used on numerous occasions to have domestic violence cases dismissed. Essentially, it means that the woman must have done something to deserve the punishment, and hence no legal action is necessary.
The West African country of Cameroon has taken some steps to address gender-based violence, drafting a law to counter gender discrimination and violence against women, but there is still no law dealing directly with domestic violence. A 2011 study found that over half of Cameroonian women had been the victims of violence at the hands of their partner, but that many people, including the women themselves, consider it to be a private matter between husband and wife. This is one of the main reasons why few women go to the authorities with their complaint, but the attitude of the judiciary is another-many of Cameroon’s judges still see it as a man’s right to discipline his errant wife.
Women in Yemen not only have no protection from domestic violence, but they remain unprotected against marital rape and men frequently receive lenient punishments for so-called honor killings. Sharia law rules in Yemen, and it not only fails to protect women who are victims, but can also see them punished for lewd behaviour, simply for being alone with a man who is not a blood relative. In addition Sharia courts will often not even hear testimonies from women, or consider their words to have half the weight of testimony from a man – making it virtually impossible to have a successful prosecution for assault, where the woman is the victim.
The former USSR state of Latvia, now an independent Eastern European country, currently has no specific legislation against domestic violence on its statute books, but if the assault under investigation has been committed by a partner, spouse or other close relative, the courts will consider that to be an aggravating factor during the prosecution. Latvian law also allows for women to apply for restraining orders against partners or ex-partners who have been violent. However, independent observers have expressed concerns about whether some of these laws, designed to help the most vulnerable women in Latvia, are being implemented effectively, and quickly enough.
The tiny African country of Lesotho, which is enclaved within South Africa, has taken some steps towards addressing gender based violence, but has yet to introduce a law which addresses domestic abuse specifically. Few cases of domestic violence make it to trial, and 40% of Lesotho women think that men can be justified in beating their wives in certain circumstances. However, Lesotho does have legislation which deals with marital rape, and the punishments are much more severe if the rapist knew that he was HIV positive, prior to the attack. The situation is rife in Lesotho, and the authorities take sexual crimes by HIV positive attackers very seriously indeed.
Uzbekistan is another former member of the USSR, which has a less than impressive record when it comes to domestic violence. While there is no specific domestic violence legislation, women who are the victims of domestic abuse can press common assault charges. Criminal prosecutions, however, usually only happen when the victim is seriously injured or killed. The country has set up bodies called Mahalla Committees, which were designed to protect women and to tackle gender-based violence in the country, but in reality, these Committees often use the fear of social stigma to pressure women to go back to their abusive partners.
The Middle Eastern country of Iran has a poor record on women’s rights in general, and has yet to establish a specific law dealing with domestic violence. Women who report domestic abuse are expected to produce evidence and witness statements, to prove their allegations, leading many abused women to stay with their husbands through fear- fear of not being believed, and of being ostracized by their family and friends. Some efforts have been made in the past to set up shelters and support networks for abused women, but these are generally not well-funded, and can only help a fraction of the Iranian women affected by domestic violence.
Pakistan has no legislation which makes domestic violence a crime in its own right, though the country’s lawmakers have made attempts to pass such laws in the past, and recently voted through the Women’s Protection Act, which gives victims more legal protection, including the establishment of a Freephone system, to make it easier for women to report assaults. Unfortunately, the country’s powerful Council of Islamic Ideology has already stated that the legislation is “un-Islamic” as it makes men insecure. Pakistani women often face abuse not just from their husbands, but also from their mothers-in-law, who play an important role in the extended family.
Cases of domestic violence in Niger are often dealt with, outside the courts, although even if a woman were to report an abuser to the authorities, the country has no specific law against domestic abuse. The country is still very tribal, and women who are the victims of minor domestic assaults will tolerate the violence because of the fear of being ostracized by their wider family. In more serious cases, the family will often intervene to try and help the woman, but this still means that the attacker gets away with his crime. Domestic violence is widely accepted as the norm, with 60% of Nigerian women believing that violence is justified for such minor complaints, as burning his food or going out without his permission.
Sources: journals.uchicago.edu, parliament.uk, huffingtonpost.com, feminist.org, refworld.org
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