The acting Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ms Anna Bossman, says the removal of certain clauses from the Domestic Violence Bill in the final phase before its passage has left the door open for impunity.
She cited in particular the section on marital rape and said its removal had created room for abuse, since it provided the avenue for the avoidance of any form of responsibility and accountability for crimes committed.
“If we say that a man cannot be guilty of raping his wife, what we are saying is that if he does it he gets away with it. That is impunity. We are not holding him accountable or responsible for that violent action against his wife,” she buttressed her submission.
Ms Bossman was addressing a forum yesterday in Accra, to commemorate International Women's Day on the theme, “Ending Impunity for violence against women and girls”.
It was organised by CHRAJ, in conjunction with the coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on human rights, and attended by a cross-section of the general public.
The International Women's Day is dedicated to celebrating the achievements and advancement in women's rights, as well as protesting against injustice and violence against women and girls.
The Domestic Violence Bill was passed by Parliament on February 21, 2007, after two years of civil advocacy, political agitation and parliamentary wrangling, all of which largely centred on the marital rape clause in the bill.
But that clause was subsequently removed before its passage and, according to the acting CHRAJ Commissioner, that decision had left the door open for impunity for an otherwise positive step to protect victims of domestic violence.
“In the first place, we should not have taken out that particular reference. May be we have to adopt different strategies to make people understand that that will not break a marriage. A marriage can be broken by those very acts we are talking about,” she indicated.
Ms Bossman expressed the hope that the enforcement of the law would give adequate protection and make domestic violence socially unacceptable, as well as strengthen families.
She commended the Ministry for Women and Children's Affairs, civil society organisations (CSOs), the media and all those who worked tirelessly to ensure the passing of the act.
Ms Bossman observed that violence against women in all forms — rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, demeaning and harmful cultural practices and domestic violence — had been perpetrated since time immemorial, in spite of the fact that they were against international and domestic laws.
What was worse, she said, was that in many instances the perpetrators and violators were exempt from punishment, either intentionally, through the lack of accountability and tacit acceptance, or by default, through the indifference and acquiescence of governments, the legislature and judicial systems.
In a presentation, Chief Inspector Elvis Sadongo of the Police Hospital said domestic violence cases reported to the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service for 2006 painted a very worrying picture.
The highest number of cases reported in that year (5,005) was on non-maintenance. That was followed by assault, 3,573; defilement, 1,427; threatening, 691, stealing, 471, among other cases.
Chief Inspector Sadongo said the offices of DOVVSU had increased from five in 2003 to 63 by the end of 2006, pointing out that over the years the unit had contributed immensely to the protection of human rights in the country.
He said the unit had seen the need to also focus on providing support for victims of domestic violence, since it was better to save the life of a victim, at the expense of arresting the perpetrator, than vice versa.
In another presentation, Dr Henrietta Odoi Agyarko of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said domestic violence against women and children had short and long-term effects, including psychological, gastro-intestinal tract disorder, living in fear and depression.
She cited instances when 14-year-old girls became pregnant as a result of early marriage, although the law pegged the minimum age for marriage at 16.
Story By Kofi Yeboah