Overhaul of Domestic Violence Act to tackle ‘major social problem’

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Domestic violence continues to be a concerning issue locally but a complete overhaul of Guyana’s Domestic Violence Act is expected to help local authorities tackle this social ill.

Already, consultants have conducted a legal analysis of the 1996 Act and presented more than 40 proposed amendments to the Minister of Human Services and Social Security Dr. Vindhya Persaud.

The proposed amendments include the need to expand the current Domestic Violence Act to include expansion of the definitions of domestic violence; including more comprehensive definitions of economic, emotional and psychological violence; updating the penalties for breach of protection orders; and inclusion of batterer intervention programmes and counselling as remedies under the law.

And Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall says that the government has decided to review this Act as part of its legislative agenda for 2022.

“The Domestic Violence Act will be completely overhauled,” the Attorney- General told the News Room during a recent interview.

Why this is important, he explained, is that domestic violence continues to be a “major social problem” in Guyana. Previously, he described it as a human rights tragedy too.

Based on figures reported by the News Room, more than 1,300 reported cases of domestic violence have been recorded from January to October, 2021. A total of 404 of those cases were reported between July and October.

With the analysis already completed under the Spotlight Initiative spearheaded by the Human Services Ministry, the Attorney- General noted that the government already has a basis for the new Bill.

And as such, he assured Guyanese that he will now work towards establishing a unit at the Legal Affairs Ministry. This unit is expected to work alongside the Human Services Ministry to bring forth a draft Bill.

But beyond just amending the Domestic Violence Act, Nandlall highlighted that the Sexual Offences Act will be reviewed and similarly overhauled.

In 2010, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted with the aim of reforming and consolidating  the laws relating to sexual offences and other elated matters. The legislation also provided for the establishment of a Sexual Offences Court, which was first launched in the county of Demerara back in 2017 and then expanded to other counties.

Though this Act and the special courts have been credited for allowing speedier trials and increased follow through from complainants, Nandlall explained that many “practical difficulties” have been unearthed.

With both pieces of legislation crucial to providing social services to people, the Attorney General emphasised that the legislative amendments are necessary this year.

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