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Editor’s Memo

UNDER the section on “emotional, verbal and psychological abuse” in the Domestic Violence Bill, some of the offences, though not criminal, are listed as “obsessive possessiveness” and “unreasonable denial of conjug

al rights”.

This is what I call getting into the real heart of the matter. I was reminded of a little story I read last week. It said men or women with beautiful spouses were most liable to suffer stress in their lives. This, it was revealed in the survey, was because both, if they were committed to each other, were likely to be plagued by jealousy and possessiveness.

The Bill on domestic violence seeks to make jealousy and possessiveness about your wife or husband an offence. It is difficult to fathom what lay in the mind of the person contemplating such a piece of law. Are we not stretching civilisation too far?

While you commit an offence of being “too possessive” of your spouse, you are still expected to fulfill his or her “conjugal rights”. How does one reconcile these two? Isn’t the law seeking to be too intrusive on issues that ordinarily should be resolved by two consenting adults or in the family setting with friends and relatives?

Why is it assumed that classifying a conflict in the family as an offence will make it any less emotional and elicit exactly the same reactions associated with love, anger, provocation? Is it the intention of the minister to legislate for or against love? Perhaps he saw the film on circuit not so long ago starring Ewan McGregor: Down With Love!

Then there were other interesting anomalies. The Bill requires that an interim protection order issued by the court should have a warrant of arrest attached to it regardless whether the respondent is aware of the action of the complainant or not. Why should the respondent be denied the legal right to presumed innocence or at least to be allowed the chance to give his/her side of the story without being treated as a common law criminal? The Bill ignores a natural human trait that a claim can be motivated by malice or a complainant overreacting in the heat of the moment. Experience shows that very few acts of “domestic violence” are premeditated.

In an act of exuberant vindictiveness, the Bill proposes that a respondent who violates a protection order should be fined or jailed for a “period not exceeding five years”. What is the intention of such a shocking sentence in a domestic issue? This is not to downplay the “offence” committed but the Bill ignores the personal relationship between husband and wife. Unless the two were already in the process of a divorce, spouses never keep grudges against each other for that long. This to me sounds more punitive than corrective.

The person so unfortunate to be convicted of domestic violence is liable to a fine “not exceeding level fourteen or to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years”. Is this for murder or rape?

The prison term contemplated here presumes that once a complainant reports to the police he or she puts the matter beyond his/her further power, has abandoned all traditional remedies pertaining to the domestic set-up and leaves no room for reconciliation. This is patently erroneous. A complainant can reconsider his/her decision for any number of reasons:

* Influence of friends or family;

* Personal affection;

* Breadwinner status of respondent;

* Possible loss of job and support; and finally,

* Risk of breaking up marriage.

The Bill risks working against its intention by discouraging those who want to make a complaint because they need help, not because they want to end their marriages or unduly punish their spouses. Unless there is something I am missing about domestic relationships.

Finally, as I went through the Bill I was on the lookout for the clause that so offended Tafara-Mabvuku MP Timothy Mubawu that he had to interpose himself between God and parliament but I found none. He allegedly complained bitterly that men had been stripped of their dignity and that the Bill was offensive in the eyes of God and therefore should be thrown out. He probably hadn’t read the whole Bill and overreacted.

Was the demonstration that followed against Mubawu’s perceived blasphemy or the alleged inequality between men and women? To me both reasons are silly — the first because God exacts His own revenge and the other because nowhere does the Bill seek to legislate for inequality on the basis of sex. So what was the point?

But if he said what he is alleged to have said, I would still respect him for his honesty. It is hard in these days of political correctness to find men or women who have the courage to speak their mind.

The crowd of women and male hangers-on who supported them against Mubawu would do well to learn a thing or two from Voltaire’s plea to God to protect him from his friends because it was easier for him to deal with his enemies (honest men).

Studies in all cultures and across social classes have demonstrated that violence against women and the girl child, including rape and murder, is mostly committed by relatives or men they know and trust (God help us). They tend to keep a safe distance from strangers.

I hope those demonstrating were not playing political games. Leave our legislators to give this important Bill the attention it deserves.

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