10 Sep 2013

Tonga Family Protection Bill passes third and final reading

4:28 pm on 10 September 2013

The director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre in Tonga says a new law which aims to end domestic violence is a step in the right direction in protecting victims.

The Family Protection Bill, which was introduced two years ago, has passed its third and final reading.

But Ofa Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki says there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure its proper implementation, and making sure the community understands how it can protect them.

OFA KI-LEVUKA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: Apart from statistics and anecdotal evidence and research that has been conducted on violence on the increase in the homes, in the families, particularly among the most vulnerable women and children, we also see that the family is the strongest and probably the most critical unit in Tongan society, and so our overall aim is to end violence from happening and occurring in that unit. For this Bill to come to pass it will help us in the work that we currently do to help women and children out of their situations, or any other member of the family.

MARY BAINES: So what parts of the new law will really work to do that?

OKG: Some of the core areas of the Bill include the protection order, which increases the powers of the police to issue protection orders on the spot up to a maximum of seven days. This is currently not available under the current legal framework in Tonga. So this is very important for those of us who work with victims on a day-to-day basis because in order to get a restraining order you need to go to the courts and get a judge to issue the restraining order. On average, this takes up to anywhere between 48 to 72 hours. By that time, the violence could have risen and the victim could have lost their life or the child could have lost his or her life by that time. Another area of the Bill that is equally important is Section 33, which ensures that the prosecutor during the proceedings informs the victim of all his or her legal rights and what is involved in the legal proceedings. Other areas of the Bill that we're quite passionate about include the committee that is going to be formed. This committee brings together key stakeholders in the community who currently are having ongoing meetings and discussions of how we can best monitor and evaluate this Bill. Passing this Bill at the third reading and eventually getting it enacted is one thing, but the biggest and most critical stage is the implementation stage, where we will have to closely monitor and evaluate the use and access of this Bill and the impact this Bill has on situations and cases that counsellors will deal with, that police will deal with, that hospital staff will deal with. It's a very core and vital part of the Bill.

MB: Was there much opposition to the Bill from people in the public or any specific groups?

OKG: The non-supporters kind of stay away from violence against women and any other family member. It was more to do with violence against children. And there were some critical debates going on about what is violence and what is discipline. In the Bill it actually states that discipline that is not reasonable is violence, so we're trying to clarify that among the public. There's just a misconception about what the Bill was actually saying, and we have a lot of work on our hands to get the people and the community not frightened of it, but more embrace it as a tool that will keep homes safer in Tonga.