Mon | Mar 4, 2024

Civic bodies, activists clamour for domestic violence fine to move to $1m

Published:Saturday | December 2, 2023 | 12:11 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter
Mickel Jackson, executive director of JFJ.
Mickel Jackson, executive director of JFJ.

Citing high levels of sexual and domestic violence in the island, 13 civil society groups and 16 advocates are hastening parliamentarians to fast-track amendments to the Domestic Violence Act to include an increase of the fines to a maximum of $1 million.

In an open letter to parliamentarians, they collectively expressed concerns about the limited scope of the act, while highlighting that there is no clear definition for domestic violence and “paltry fines” for perpetrators who breach the law.

“The current fines are that of J$10,000 or up to six months if a protection order is breached.

“This is unacceptable and has contributed to a culture of impunity for abusers, leaving victims without the protection they deserve,” read a section of the letter. “Parliament must act on its commitment to increase the fines up to J$1,000,000 as was previously announced.

The groups suggested that the legislators look at Section 20 of Trinidad’s corresponding legislation, which allows for tiered-level approach based on one’s history of domestic violence.

“For example, first conviction, second conviction and subsequent convictions carry varying levels of fines or imprisonment not exceeding five years. The penalties for breach of the protection order should also be explicitly stated from breaches of occupation order,” they noted in the letter.

Among the signatories are Jamaicans for Justice, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, Equality for All Foundation Limited, Eve for Life, National Integrity Action, Stand Up for Jamaica and TransWave Jamaica. Diana McCaulay, Hilary Nicholson, Horace Levy, and Dr Nadeen Spence were among the 16 individuals signing.

The pitch forms part of a larger request for the Government to speed up the legislative reform to address sexual and domestic violence.

“Despite the tabling of a 2018 Joint Select Committee (JSC) recommendation report and several public promises made to amend the associated pieces of legislation, to date, no legislative changes have been undertaken,” the campaigners noted in the letter.

The Child Care and Protection Act, Sexual Offences Act, Offences Against the Persons Act, and the Domestic Violence Act were listed as relevant legislation which require urgent amendments to adequately address the issues.

“Rape remains at an alarming high rate with the Jamaica Constabulary Force noting 454 reports in 2022, while there were 338 reports of grievous sexual assault in the same year,” the groups shared, noting that anecdotally, service providers who work within communities believe the number of sexual violence to be far greater, and that the true numbers are not being reflected due to fear of reporting the perpetrators.

They also cited that in 2022, the Domestic Violence Intervention Centres recorded 1,720 intimate-partner violence cases and 924 family-violence cases, with more than 650 reports made by children.

At the same time, they noted that those figures differed from the hundreds managed by civil society groups such as Woman Inc, Jamaicans for Justice, Eve for Life, and others.

Turning to the issue of rape, they described as troubling, “the fact act that men still cannot be raped in law and a female who is forcibly penetrated anally receives less protection due to a lack of political will to redefine rape”.

The advocates said they are disappointed that Parliament in 2018 did not accept recommendations on amending the definition of rape and making changes to grievous sexual assault to address forced anal sex.

“By shifting the burden on the general population to vote on buggery by way of a referendum, Parliament has reneged on its legislative responsibility. Forced anal penetration cannot be treated less seriously than that of forced vaginal penetration; therefore, Parliament must act decisively,” they stressed.

Among the other issues highlighted were abortion and the criminalisation of underage sex, with the group calling for Government to decriminalise abortion and close-in-age sexual relations.

“It is now time for the 84 parliamentarians to exercise the political will and move with alacrity in amending the laws,” they said further, expressing disappointment that they have to be again renewing calls for the Government to act when the joint select committee was established in 2014.

“Despite some advancements made, such as the [passing and coming into effect] of the Sexual Harassment Act, much remains to be done to ensure Jamaica is in line with Jamaica’s obligations under international human rights law.

“ As concerned citizens of Jamaica, we urge you to act swiftly and decisively to address the critical gaps in the law that perpetuate sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence in our society,” they said.