Eighteen years after the passing of the Domestic Violence Act, its regulations were finally gazetted last month and officially launched yesterday by Human Services and Society Security Minister Jennifer Webster.
Speaking at the launch at Cara Lodge yesterday, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said that while the regulations will never be the remedy for domestic violence in Guyana, they were certainly among the identified mechanisms to address the issue.
He said the Act itself, which failed to define domestic violence, would soon undergo amendment. With Parliament prorogued and general elections set for May it is difficult to see how this will be accomplished.
The regulations are the result of “widespread consultations” with users of the Act, interested groups, legal practitioners, interpreters of the Act and law enforcement officers.
“Domestic violence does not discriminate against economic or social standard,” Nandlall said, adding that it permeates every section of society. He noted that the issue may be even more pronounced in Guyana.
He noted that some police officers are now trained to deal with domestic violence, while being made familiar with the Domestic Violence Act. “It is a work in progress,” he said.
The Regulations permit persons to give evidence by way of an affidavit, which can be filed with the clerk or may be presented to the court at the time of the hearing. The regulations also clarify and explain the number of orders that are grantable.
Nandlall indicated that time and the delay in the hearing of applications have always been serious issues and these are addressed in the Regulations.
The serving of complaints and orders were also addressed in the Regulations as it was found that personal service is not practical if it would likely endanger the safety of the applicant or the person on whose behalf the application is made. The applicant does not have to be present at the time of the service when the applicant’s agent executes service.
Minister Webster said gender-based violence and domestic violence have to be stopped. She stated that violence “knows not colour, class, ethnicity or culture” and it has been recognized that a coordinated and sustained approach is necessary to address the issue.
She said that in 2014 there were 3,051 reports of domestic violence and these statistics tell the story of the economic cost of such violence to the society.
She pointed to the need for more collaboration between social workers and medical personnel and the importance for everyone to join the fight. Webster said she will personally solicit the cooperation of the Guyana Police Force to ensure that protection orders are enforced. “I think it is really necessary because many times many of our women are at risk,” she said.
Webster commended Nandlall and his team of lawyers from the Attorney General’s Chambers for working closely with the ministry on the Regulations. “Today is a significant day for all of us in Guyana in the fight to end domestic violence and gender-based violence in our society. We have made a positive step in the right direction,” she stated.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Priya Manickchand posited that domestic violence springs from a power struggle between genders. She said it occurs because there is a failure to arrive at gender equality.
Manickchand said many people grew up in a culture where it was acceptable for a “man to slap his wife or girlfriend”. She said billions are being spent on repairing women who have been victims of domestic violence but little is spent on the promotion of gender equality.
Director of Social Services Wentworth Tanner said domestic violence is one of the most unreported crimes and that there is a serious need to change the culture of a “quiet tolerance” toward domestic violence.
Copies of the Regulations could be downloaded from the ministry’s website or the Official Gazette website: http://officialgazette.gov.gy/
Rights activists have criticized the government for many years for not activating all of the facets of the Domestic Violence Act and issuing regulations.