I was happy to read the clarification by the Public Security Police in today’s [yesterday’s] newspaper about earlier remarks opposing the domestic violence bill which according to the media had been sent to the Legislative Assembly. Even if this is not the official position of the police (and they have now clarified that it is not) these remarks just the same undoubtedly reflect the thinking of many people in the community and need to be addressed.
In every country where domestic violence has been criminalized there has been an initial increase in cases because more victims will have the courage to come forward. It is a mistake to think that it is a “woman’s human right” to decide whether or not to prosecute the aggressor if the aggressor is a family member. All international bodies insist it is rather her right to be protected by the State in such instances. Unfortunately many people in the community have not yet grasped the main point about domestic violence which is that it is a “women’s human rights issue”. Little by little in the past 50 years or so more and more women have awakened to the fact that they are not subject to men but they have their own dignity and human rights. For this reason more and more countries have enacted laws to protect women from violence including the violence that often takes place in their own home. Two international covenants to which Macau is a signatory have been urging the Macau government to take this important step and criminalize domestic violence.
The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) in their report to the government in May 2014 expressed “regret that domestic violence has not yet been recognized as a public offense” and recommended that the government speed up the process of adopting “specific legislation criminalizing domestic violence.” It also recommended that the government conduct a media campaign to all segments of society but “ in particular the law enforcement officials” with a view to changing attitudes regarding domestic violence. (italics are mine)
CEDAW has been making this request since 2008. In its report to the government in October of 2014 it once again asks that the government:
“Ensure that the draft Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence comprehensively covers all aspects of domestic violence and that domestic violence is recognized as a criminal offense subject to ex-officio prosecution.” (i.e. public crime)
What we have before the Assembly now is basically a very good and comprehensive law. It has some flaws but these can be addressed by implementing good practice methods such as involving not only the police but the specially trained government social worker, the doctor and finally the judge in making the judgment about a reported case when there is some doubt. Just last week a respected legal analyst in Hong Kong, Grenville Cross, in an article entitled. “ Time to get serious about stamping out domestic violence” (SCMP, March 3, 2015) made note of the fact that Macau has already moved ahead of Hong Kong in its effort to tackle the problem of domestic violence.
In proposing the Law now before the Legislative Assembly which lists domestic violence as a public crime, the Macau government has shown foresight and courage. It has listened to the voices of many people who know about or have experienced domestic violence first hand and it has taken an important step to honor its obligations as a signatory to the above mentioned international Covenants.
It takes time to change traditional entrenched ways of thinking. But I remain optimistic that the law will be passed. When you have taken a significant step forward it is difficult to go back.
Sr. Juliana Devoy
Good Shepherd Centre,
March 9, 2015