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Progress against Domestic Violence as traditional Chiefs trained

HARARE, 21 August 2007 – Following the historic enactment of Zimbabwe’s Domestic Violence Act, UNICEF, the Government and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWALA) are training hundreds of traditional leaders across the country to help fight domestic abuse in their communities.

The training ensures more than 300 Chiefs are informed on how to apply and interpret the Act, stop abuse, and offer support to victims in their communities.

“Chiefs play a pivotal role in settling domestic disputes across rural Zimbabwe,” said UNICEF Representative, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “They are often the custodians of traditional law and receive the bulk of cases dealing with domestic violence. Yet, too often in the past they have lacked the power and knowledge to prevent and adequately respond to domestic violence.”

Amid continuing economic hardships, unemployment at 70 per cent, and a growing HIV/AIDS crisis, anecdotal evidence has shown not only an increase in domestic violence, but in its severity as well. In Zimbabwe 95 per cent of the victims of domestic violence are women.

“Advocating for a Domestic Violence law was a triumph, a great first stride,” said UNICEF’s gender focal person, Jelda Nhiziyo. “But this is the beginning. The greatest challenges lie ahead. We must fight to change mindsets, entrenched values and habits, and in this struggle traditional leaders are the key.”

The training has enabled 300 chiefs to create community-level systems to support survivors of violence. It has also provided a forum for ongoing dialogue on the growing problem of violence in the family and how to curb it. In addition to chiefs, the UNICEF training brought together councilors, members of parliament, government and civil society.

The Domestic Violence Act provides Zimbabwe with clear laws against violence in the home. The Act protects victims of domestic violence and provides long term measures through:

• stiffer sentences in criminal matters;
• placing special duties on police to assist victims and provide special domestic violence sections at police stations;
• ensuring police are specially trained on the Bill and that they must advise the victim of his or her rights under the Bill;
• immediately providing victims with a court issued protection order, that directs the perpetrator to stop committing violence and is issued with a warrant of arrest.

Nonetheless, there remains a widespread lack of knowledge about the Act (which became law in 2006), and its provisions. In particular, many are unaware that physical, psychological and emotional abuse are grounds for protection and that a protection order can remain in force when a protected person is living with the perpetrator. The engagement of traditional leadership aims to address these knowledge gaps.

Beyond the training, UNICEF is actively engaged in working to reduce domestic violence in Zimbabwe. UNICEF also trains pastors, police and communities on handling domestic violence, together with teachers on how they can provide life skills to victims of violence. It works with community-based counselors to identify and counsel survivors of domestic violence.

A global study published last year by UNICEF and The Body Shop International reveals the devastating and lasting impact on children of living with domestic violence.

In the vast majority of cases, domestic violence is perpetrated against women. At least one in three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way-most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member. The report turns attention to the lesser-known facts, that is the impact on children who are exposed to this violence.

“Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest,” said Kavishe. “Protecting children should be the absolute concern of everybody who is working to see an end to domestic violence.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
James Elder, UNICEF Zimbabwe Chief of Communications, Mobile + 0912 276 120, Email: jelder@unicef.org




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