By Jacintah Akino on October 5, 2020

Towards a domestic violence free state.

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On 2nd August 2020, Uganda woke up to the sad news of the regrettable passing of Ms. Violet Kakai (RIP) who was hacked to death by her estranged husband. Many more other women in various parts of Uganda have been victims of domestic violence at the hands of loved ones both physically and emotionally.

The number of deaths and injuries inflicted upon these women continues to rise, more so during the COVID-19 pandemic where 3000 cases and 6 deaths due to domestic violence were reported in one month[1]. While acknowledging that men, just like women, can be victims of gender-based violence, this article shall focus specifically on violence against women.

Cases of domestic violence continue to rise in spite of an existing legal framework established for the protection and relief of victims as well as the punishment of perpetrators of domestic violence[2]. The surge in these cases invites scrutiny into the Domestic Violence Act of Uganda and its enforceability in Uganda today.[3]

The Act adopts a rather broad and multi-faceted definition of domestic violence to include physical injury, psychological abuse, harassment, threatening and economic abuse. This fairly all-encompassing definition is a welcome approach in order to accommodate the various forms of violence that may be suffered by women and men alike. In the wake of technological advancement and increased use of social media platforms, the Act doesn’t seem to address cyberbullying and cyber harassment as a growing avenue of violence against women especially by jilted or estranged domestic partners[4]. Whereas Uganda as a country recorded significantly higher cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown, the latter is not singly to blame for the rising number of domestic violence cases in the past months[5]. The Lockdown may have only brought to light the seriousness and rampant occurrence of the crime of domestic violence especially in rural areas even with existing law on the same.

From an access to justice perspective, the enforcement of some of the provisions of the act like protection orders and sanctions for perpetrators of violence is a major hindrance to the punishment and deterrence of perpetrators[6]. A study by UNHCR highlights the lack of knowledge by the Populus about the existing laws on domestic violence and limited access to court as key bottlenecks hindering the protection of women from gender-based violence[7].

Whereas the Act provides for proceedings in local council courts to handle domestic violence cases in the area where the perpetrator resides, it has been noted that often times, there is a knowledge gap[8]. This gap has been highlighted as a hindrance to the LC leaders who lack sufficient knowledge about the legal provisions of the Act[9]. Furthermore, the victims themselves are at times ignorant of the provisions of the Act which are intended to protect them and provide for remedies.

The far-reaching effects of domestic violence that greatly impact the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of “spectator” children in violent homes is an issue that the Act and stakeholders should address further. In the case of Uganda v Kamuhanda, the court was faced with a case of murder committed by a son against his biological father[10]. During the court proceedings, the accused son of the deceased clearly stated that he murdered his father due to repeated acts of violence against the family members and was found guilty of murder by the high court of Fort Portal[11]. The latter goes to show the physical, mental, and psychological impact of domestic violence on spectator children in the cycle of violence. The Act should therefore seek to protect and accommodate such children within the ambit of victims of domestic violence as opposed to the limiting view of children who have been the immediate and direct victims of violence from perpetrators[12].

The role of the law in the fight against domestic violence cannot be underestimated, however, the law alone can only do so much in the absence of a mindset change and sensitization of all citizens, police officers, and other stakeholders, coupled with policy interventions that are applicable to all persons. As many other women continue to suffer and lose their lives, the root causes of domestic violence must be addressed in order to gear policy change and the protection of human rights.

 

[1] CEDOVIP, The Domestic Violence Act Coalition’s call to government for a gender-sensitive National Covid-19 response,2020. https://www.cedovip.org/the-domestic-violence-act-coalitions-call-to-government-for-a-gender-sensitive-national-covid-19-response/

[accessed on 9th September 2020 ]

[2] Ibid,Preamble, Section 2

[3] Domestic Violence Act of Uganda(2010)

[4] https://www.un.org/africarenewal/news/uganda-violence-against-women-unabated-despite-laws-and-policies

[5] Supra,Note 1

[6] Section 10

[7] UNHCR, Monthly Protection Update, Legal and Physical Protection, December 2019.

[8] Section 7.

[9] Supra,Note 7.

[10] Uganda v Kamuhanda, (HCT-01-CR-SC-0024 OF 2012) [2014] https://ulii.org/ug/judgment/high-court-criminal-division/2014/21

[11] Ibid, Decision by Justice Batema.

[12] Section 17.

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