KAMPALA, Uganda – In Uganda, domestic violence is partly driven by some unsupportive traditional beliefs and norms that unfortunately normalise the abuse. Some cultures tolerate violence and associate violence with exhibition of affection. Society’s acceptance of men’s abusive use of power over women – even when it involves physical injuries while considering the acts as private matter and therefore never reported – also adds to the continued spread of this menace.
Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) notes that since domestic violence is often condoned by society, the perpetrators of domestic violence often go unpunished. This demoralises the victims of the abuse who end up not reporting to authorities but rather choose to continue to experience abuse even at the hands of family members.
“Unfortunately, most women and girls do not report cases of domestic violence because their abusers are family members whose care they are under. Worse still, society doesn’t encourage the public discussion of what is deemed as family matters. Other reasons may include a fear of reprisal or embarrassment and ignorance of the law and lack of information of how and where to report these cases,” said Boaz Ongodia, Associate Legal Aid & Community Justice, UGANET.
The normal practice by police to demand money in order for them to take action on any complaints also keeps the victims of domestic violence silent. Poor rural areas, especially in east and northern Uganda register, the most cases of domestic violence. The people in those areas and in slums found in urban areas have no money to offer police and therefore never have their cases investigated or their abusers punished.
As a consequence, this pushes the women and girls to rely on just their family members who simply seek for reconciliation when domestic violence is reported while leaving the perpetrators to go unpunished and sometimes, to continue abusing the women.
According to a report by the Uganda Police, in 2011, there were 7690 cases of defilement reported but only 50% of the reported cases were taken to court and 10% of the cases tried ended up with convictions. This was tied to the long investigation and trial processes.
For long, Uganda had no specific law in place prohibiting domestic violence, until October 2007 when a by-law was passed. This enabled the community members or authority figures to impose a fine or demand compensation from the perpetrator of domestic violence to aid the victim.
Later in 2010, Uganda enacted Domestic violence law but the awareness of its contents and provisions is still a struggle and in a way slows the pace of its implementation.
“Despite the presence of some domestic violence related legislation, the ineffective implementation of the laws is still a challenge due to the unclear delineation of responsibilities of duty bearers like the schools, police, health facilities and courts of law, all in addition to the inadequate and improper allocation of resources needed for the implementation of these law and policies,” added Ongodia.
UGANET calls for policies and responsibilities to be clearly stated for the duty bearers to fully comprehend and for the various institutions addressing domestic violence to be headed by persons that have a great understating of the issues relating to domestic violence against women. This will help in prioritising the problem and therefore avoid under-funding of activities and implementation of policies that fight against domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Act was a step towards guarding the rights of women in Uganda but without its implementation, it’s merely a scarecrow with no ability to fight its cause since relatively a low proportion of the cases are seen through investigation or conviction.
Therefore sharing of information on the content and provisions of the 2010 Domestic violence Act among key duty bearers, stakeholders and members of the public would help increase the reporting of domestic violence cases in communities to relevant authorities.
“More policies should be put in place to hold authorities accountable to their duty of investigating and punishing the perpetrators of domestic violence. More importantly, relevant authorities should enforce the policies which have been put in place to see that women, girls and other minority groups are not violated and the perpetrators left to walk scorch free,” Ongodia concluded.