House Passes Domestic Violence Act Of 2019 Awaits Senate Concurrence

Monrovia: Following heated debates, public outcries and engagements on the need to ensure protection for all gender under the law, the House of Representatives Thursday, July 4, 2019, finally passed into law the Domestic Violence Act of 2019 and forwarded to the Liberian Senate for Concurrence.

Forty (40) lawmakers in session voted unanimously for the new Domestic Violence Act of 2019 which seeks to recognize domestic violence as a serious crime against individuals in society which takes on many forms including physical, sexual abuses, neglect and exploitation. It also intends to facilitate the accessibility of remedies under the act in order to provide immediate and effective assistance and protection for victims/survivors.

The bill which followed a five (5) year stay at the National Legislature over the extraction of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) component to enable a stand along bill for domestic violence was re-introduced by Rivercess County District 2 Representative and Chair of the Women Legislative Caucus Rosana G.D.H Schaack on May 5, 2019, in which plenary took a decision to forward said bill to a joint committee on Gender, Judiciary and Good Governance.

Accordingly, the bill recognizes the support of efforts to victims/survivors of domestic violence to avoid further abuse by promptly entering and diligently enforcing court orders which prohibit abuse and, when necessary, reduce the abuser’s access to the victim and address any related issues of child custody and economic support, so that victims are not trapped in abusive situations by fear of retaliation, loss of a child, financial dependence, or loss of home.

With the help of both local and international partners in the advancement of women and children’s rights and in the spirit of equality for all along with the House’s joint committee held consultations on the crafting of a new bill which will conform to present-day realities for the protection of all.

During the consultations with civil society organizations, traditional and local leaders, the joint committee indicated that it was agreed that the FGM portion of the bill is extracted to enable the respect of the constitution on culture and traditions.

Traditional leaders at the last meeting in Buchannan agreed to close Sande and Poro bushes or schools for a period of one (1) year to enable the crafting of policies that will guide against the violation of human rights in the process.

Earlier on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, the women of Liberia stormed the grounds and chambers of the House’s session in demand of the passage of the Domestic Violence bill, which they indicated will bring relief to most gender-based violence crimes across the country.

During deliberation on the bill, the joint committee through the Judiciary Chair Cllr. J. Fonatti Koffa described the bill as more realistic, thereby representing the protection of all and caution his colleagues for prompt passage into law.

Forty (46) Lawmakers in session voted to overturn a motion previously proffered by Nimba County Representative Jeremiah Koon on passing the bill on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 owing to the distribution of copies of the law to all lawmakers for accurate decision, to a motion for reconsideration by Montserrado County District 8 Representative Acarous Gray on the act passage for Thursday July 4, 2019 which Gray mentioned that the law is clear and there was no need to keep going back and forth on its passage.

On Thursday, July 4, 2019, there were jubilations in the House’s chambers by supporters of the Bill and majority women lawmakers over the passage of the bill.
Most Lawmakers believed that the bill’s passage sets a new beginning for the change of attitudes especially abuses against women, children and others and also it will cultivate new approaches of advancing issues in homes and communities, among others.

For the House’s Chair on Gender, Rep. Julie Fatorma Weah, the bill is a miles stone achievement in protecting the rights of all under the constitution of Liberia, while urging the women of Liberia to do more to enable its passage into law by the Liberian Senate.

“I am glad we were able to pass this bill today because the bill is excellent and I know as years go by it could be amended where need be. I want to say thanks to our male counterparts who helped us in this process because the bill has been here for five years so I am hopeful that the senate will pass on it.”

Rep. Weah mentioned that the joint committee is collaborating efforts to ensure a bill is proffered to seek a specialized court for the adjudication of cases of domestic violence in Liberia immediately after the passage of the 2019 Domestic Violence Act by the Liberian Senate.

“We want for those cases that will come to be attended to faster because most of them will be from the home, community and so forth so our committee is working to ensure a court or system that will deal with those issues,” she disclosed.

According to Chapter 16.21 of the bill which focuses on Offenses, states that a person in a domestic relationship who engages in an act or omission which amounts to Domestic Violence as defined by this Act commits an offense of domestic violence and shall be guilty of the crime of domestic violence. The mensrea and/or actusreus of domestic violence shall constitute the following within a domestic relationship if: (a) there are threats to commit or committing acts of physical or sexual violence; (b) there are patterns causing emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse, as certified by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or behavioral specialist licensed to practice in the Republic of Liberia, after examination of the victim/survivor; (c) there are threats to commit or committing acts constituting economic abuse; (d) the person is deliberately prevented from engaging in any legitimate profession, occupation, business or activity. (e) the person is deprived of the right to the use and enjoyment of conjugal property or property owned in common; (f) there are threats to deprive or depriving a person of a legal right; (g) causing or attempting to cause a person to engage in any sexual activity which does not constitute rape by force, threat or intimidation; (h)attempting to unlawfully restrict or restricting a person’s freedom of movement or conduct; (i) stalking or repeatedly following, pursuing, or accosting a person; (j) harassment; (k) dowry-related violence, (l) all other controlling or abusive behavior towards a person, where the conduct harms, or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of the person in a domestic relationship.

The Act also defined “Domestic violence” as any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, men, or children, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life between parties in an existing or former domestic relationship.

The forms of domestic violence include, but are not limited to: (a) “physical abuse,” which means any act or threatened act of physical violence to a person, physical violence being any behavior that violates a person’s bodily integrity or health; and (b)“emotional, verbal and psychological abuse” meaning a pattern or one time occurrence of degrading or humiliating conduct towards a person including any behavior that causes emotional damage and reduction of self-esteem, or that harms and disturbs full development, or that aims at degrading or controlling a person’s actions, behavior, beliefs and decisions, by means of reduction of self-esteem, threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, constant surveillance, constant pursuit, insult, intimidations, blackmail, ridiculing, exploitation and limitation of the rights to come and go, repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy, which is such as to constitute a serious invasion of a person’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security, or any other acts that cause damage to the person’s psychological health and self-determination, or any series of acts which collectively cause a person to fear for his or her safety and life.

Also “economic abuse,” which means the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources to which a spouse is entitled under the law, including household necessities for a spouse including food, payment of rent in respect of shared residence, destroying or damaging household or property owned by a spouse within a domestic relationship or personal belongings, payment of school fees in case of a minor.; and (d) Any action or behavior of domestic violence as defined in this Act committed in the presence of a minor member of the family and which is likely considered as an abuse against the minor member or any form of injury as defined herein.

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