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Domestic violence law improved. Now what?

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)

The Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2017 was passed by the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, receiving unanimous support. The Bill significantly improves protection for survivors of abuse, expands the definition of domestic violence, and improves provisions on counselling.

We applaud Y.B. Dato’s Sri Rohani Abdul Karim, Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, and the Ministry’s policy and legal staff, for this milestone. We also thank the 22 Members of Parliament who provided input during the debate.

What’s next? For the law to actually help people, the government must do these 10 things.

1.  Ensure bill becomes law and comes into effect. The Bill now moves to the Dewan Negara and then for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s signature. The Minister sets a date for the Act to come into force.

2.  Update guidelines. The Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Keganasan Rumah Tangga lists government agencies’ respective responsibilities. This official guidelines must be updated. Processes for new mechanisms must be created and included in the Garis Panduan. Government agencies left out of the Garis Panduan, including the Immigration Department, must be included.

3.  Provide adequate budget. Government agencies must be given adequate funds to carry out their new functions. For example, the Welfare Department must be able to hire officers specialised in domestic violence, and the Sexual Crimes and Crimes Against Children Division (D11) of the police force needs more frontline officers.

4.  Upgrade systems. Responsibilities of government officials, especially welfare officers and police officers, have been expanded. To ensure smooth coordination within and between agencies, data management and referral systems (including processes, hardware, and software) must be reviewed and upgraded if necessary.

5.  Build capacity. Welfare officers, police officers, deputy public prosecutors, courts, and other government officials must be trained on their new responsibilities. Regular trainings must be improved as well, as even existing laws are implemented inconsistently.

6.  Establish coordination platforms. Responding to domestic violence involves multiple stakeholders. Quarterly multi-stakeholder meetings (including government agencies and NGO service providers) at the state levels and at the national level can facilitate this coordination.

7.  Establish monitoring mechanisms. KPIs for all stakeholders involved must be identified, tracked, and released publicly.

8.  Clarify any uncertainties. Some provisions may need clarification, such as: how police officers should investigate the widened definition of domestic violence, and how the new section 326A in the Penal Code (that increases the maximum punishment for domestic violence offences) affects the ability of a magistrate to compound the offence.

9.  Empower survivors to get protection. We must support survivors with adequate crisis shelter, financial support, and childcare assistance – so survivors are able to escape abuse. We also need improved counselling services and court assistance to support survivors through the process of getting protection.

10.  Increase public awareness. Survivors must be aware of their new rights, the public must know how to intervene when they encounter abuse, and a strong message must be sent that abuse is unlawful.

We applaud this positive step, and look forward to continuing to work with government agencies to ensure that all persons live a life free from abuse.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG):

  1. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  2. Women Centre for Change (WCC Penang)
  3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  4. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  5. Justice for Sisters
  6. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  7. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  8. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
  9. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
  10. Sarawak Women for Women Society
  11. Sisters in Islam
  12. Tenaganita

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