(2009-06-30) The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Monday passed the first reading of a bill on domestic violence against women, severely increasing the penalties for such violence.
Up until now, there has been no such crime as domestic violence on the Mozambican statute book. When a husband beat up his wife, this was treated as a simple case of assault.
The bill states that in any case of domestic violence, the minimum and maximum prison terms established for crimes such as assault and causing grievous bodily harm will be increased by a third. But, after assessing the family situation, the court may replace a prison sentence by a period of community work.
The bill defines domestic violence as a "public crime" - which means that prosecuting the offender does not depend on a complaint from the victim. The police can act without waiting for a complaint, and anybody else who becomes aware of the violence can denounce it to the police or prosecution service.
Women who are victims of domestic violence must receive urgent and sympathetic treatment from the police and the health authorities. The latter must provide a detailed report on the injuries to the woman, and their possible consequences.
Should the husband or other male relative who committed the act of violence abscond, he will be tried in absentia.
But even before there is any trial, the Court may, at the request of the woman or of the prosecution, issue an injunction, banning the offender from the house, and suspending his parental rights over the couple's children. The court may also seize any weapons found in the possession of the man, and ban him from removing or selling any family property.
Meque Vicente, the chairperson of the Assembly's Social Affairs Commission, which proposed the bill, denied that its purpose was to "break up the family". On the contrary, it was defending families against violence.
"We have already legislated to protect children", he said, referring to child protection legislation passed last year. "Now we should legislate to protect women'.
Although the bill eventually passed unanimously, there was hostile muttering from some members of the former rebel movement Renamo. Thus Antonio Muchanga criticized the bill for not being "inclusive". He thought the law should also deal with violence against men.
Anselmo Vitor protested that the bill was "discriminatory". He claimed there had been an earlier consensus that the bill must include all forms of violence, "but now everything's changed, and it only mentions violence against women".
Renamo women deputies did not agree. Helena Zitha pointed out that widows in the Mozambican countryside are victims of pitiless violence from their late husbands' relatives. "Everything that a widow managed to obtain when she was living with her later husband is torn away from her", she said.
Nobody pushed their objections to a vote, and so the bill passed unanimously and by acclamation. It will now be amended in committee before coming back to the plenary for a final vote in mid-July.