Submission to Portfolio Committee on Justice and Ad Hoc Committee on Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women: Joint Hearings on Gender Issues by NICRO Western Cape: Support for Abused Women Project - 20th March 1998

NICRO would like to express its appreciation for the opportunity to address the portfolio committees today and for the priority being given to violence against women by these structures. We have addressed the Portfolio Committee on Justice on a previous occasion (on 6th June 1997) and made other submissions to Parliament through various forums. Unfortunately, because of lack of time we have not been able to collate all these documents into a new format for today's hearing but have brought along copies for the committees should you not have received them directly.

1. Interdicts issued in terms of the Prevention of Family Violence Act 1993
We have been very concerned since the introduction of the Prevention of Family Violence Act to ensure that the legislation is effective, and that women do in fact get the protection they need. To this end we have undertaken two research studies, one (which we presented to the Justice Portfolio Committee last year) and one which we are presently completing. In the latter report NICRO surveyed all 49 magistrates courts in the Western Cape dealing with interdict applications. The results indicate that up to October 1997, over 27,000 interdicts have been issued since the Act came into force in December 1993. As soon as the report has been edited it will be forwarded to you.

As indicated, this report covers only the Western Cape. It would be very useful if statistics could be obtained from courts in other provinces so that we could build up a national picture of the problem. We have written to the Department of Justice requesting national statistics but have not had any feedback as yet. However even when courts are willing to assist, we have found that the information kept by them is very limited, For example, we tried to obtain details about the number of male and female applicants, the numbers of cases where the interdict has been violated and the outcome of resulting court cases. Most courts were unable to assist us, as they had not kept detailed enough records. We know that the legislation is being revised and are hopeful that this will ensure that the level of protection to women and their children will increase. However, without proper statistics and monitoring systems in place we will be unable to assess whether this is in fact the case. We therefore appeal to the Department of Justice to introduce standardised statistics to be kept by all courts and a monitoring system to ensure that the new Act does in fact work as it is envisaged.

Referring to the new Act, we enclose a copy of our recommendations to the S A Law Commission on their proposals to changes to the legislation. We were unfortunately not able to be present here this morning to hear feedback from the SALC so are uncertain as to how many of our recommendations have been considered for incorporation into the new bill. We do hope that the final outcome will provide more effective and speedy protection for women and their children and that innovative ways will be found to overcome the alleged abusers' rights being given priority over those of the victims. We also appeal to you for this new Act to be introduced as soon as possible.

2. Funding for Organisations dealing with violence against women
Although the government has stated clearly in a number of documents and policies that priority will be given to abused women and children, the reality is that funding is being cut rather than increased to organisations which are working in this field. As one example, NICRO Western Cape's funding by he Department of Social Services has been cut by R80, 000 for this coming year. Combined with this is the tapering off of overseas funding, which is soon going to cause a crisis in the delivery of services. We therefore appeal to the committees here to seek ways to ensure that resources are channeled towards the stated priority areas to enable work to continue.

3. Implementation of Family Courts
We are fully in support of the new Family Court system but are concerned about the delays in implementation at the local level. Again, we were not here when the Department of Justice made their presentation so may not know of the latest plans. However, we do know that many many women continue to suffer at the hands of unsympathetic and ineffective court officials and that the new Family Courts could make an enormous difference to ensuring that justice is truly done, once they are fully operational. This will only be possible if court officials are adequately trained and if the courts provide a comprehensive service to families including dealing with domestic violence, divorce maintenance, custody etc.

4. Urgency of passing the new Maintenance Act
Of major concern to us is the present maintenance system which is born ineffective and biased, in the minds of the majority of users. Abused women are the most vulnerable as they often have no option but to remain with the abuser (or to return to him if they have left), even if the situation is life threatening, if they have no financial support. The situation has been exacerbated by the Department of Welfare's phasing out of the Maintenance grant so that there will be no state relief for a woman and her children if she is not supported by the father of her children. The problems have been well documented by Black Sash and others. We need the new Act to be passed as a mater of urgency, and then monitored to ensure that it does become as effective as anticipated.

5. Life skills education in the curriculum at all levels of schooling
As requested in our recent memorandum to Parliament (delivered at the end of a march on International Women's Day) we strongly recommended that domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programme be introduced into the new Life Skills curriculum at schools at all levels. These programmes would obviously need to be presented against the background of non-racist and non-sexist education generally, and much will need to be done to prepare the teachers for this task. We need to make the most of this important opportunity to educate young people at this influential stage of their lives.

We would like to offer our assistance to the Department of Education (as we are sure many other NGOs would do too) to develop suitable material for incorporation into the new curriculum. In particular, Soul City is a highly skilled organisation which is know to be producing materials for schools addressing violence against women.

Thank you

Jane Keen
Manager: NICRO Support for Abused Women Project, Western Cape