Kuwait City: Kuwait’s National Assembly approved a domestic violence draft law and will send it to the government for formalisation, local media reported.
It will take about six months for the government to formalise the law. Once it does, it will come into effect.
Out of the 40 members that attended the session, 38 MPs voted in favour of the law, one MP voted against and one abstained.
The National Assembly’s women and family committee, which is made up of five MPs, including the only female MP Safaa Al Hashem, first discussed the proposed law before transferring it to the floor of the parliament for approval.
The draft law set a threshold and legal protection procedures in regards to domestic violence in a way that it does not affect the well-being of the family. “This law will ensure the well being of the overall family since the victim will not be required to file a complaint at the police station that could result in legal and financial punishment of the abuser,” Athra Al Rifai, a Kuwaiti lawyer, told Gulf News.
In the past victims of domestic violence needed to file a complaint at the police station and then, oftentimes, would return home to their abusers.
Al Rifai added, “Most victims used to not file a complaint because they were afraid of the repercussions, but now with this new law they can avoid filing a complaint at the police station and seek help, whether going to a shelter or getting legal support.”
The law was prepared in a manner that would guarantee protection and create institutional mechanisms to ensure constant monitoring of domestic violence crimes. One of the articles requires the formation of a national committee made up of representatives of government and civil society groups.
In addition, the law was drafted to provide legal, medical and rehabilitative resources to domestic violence victims. Another article addresses the need to establish shelters, provide legal advice and publish statistics on domestic violence in Kuwait. This is to be handled and led by the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.
“A shelter was inaugurated in 2017 but because there was no law to fund the shelter it never got operational. Thus, this law will provide funding and resources to the shelters,” Al Rifai, a Kuwaiti lawyer, told Gulf News.
One of the articles describes domestic violence as a form of physical, psychological, sexual or financial mistreatment whether in words or in actions.
The passing of the law is a major victory for women’s rights in Kuwait as the majority of domestic violence is gender-based violence.
“This is a big win for Kuwaiti women and families across Kuwait as it ensures the security and well being of the family in general,” Al Rifai said.
“Although this law protects all family members against domestic violence, as we sometimes deal with cases of children being abused, especially if they are under 21, women make up the largest portion of domestic violence victims in Kuwait,” Al Rifai explained.
According to the UN, around one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. Due to social barriers in Kuwait, there is a lack of statistics and data in regards to domestic violence.
A survey conducted by Dr. Fatima Al Salem found that 50 per cent of those surveyed perceive the main perpetrator is a woman’s husband/finance. Although there is a lack of data about domestic violence victims, there is a general understanding amongst the Kuwaiti public that domestic violence is prevalent in society.
In 2013, a study was conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour revealed that 98.4 per cent of Kuwaitis agree that emotional and verbal violence exists in the society. In addition, 94.8 per cent agreed that there is financial violence and 94.1 per cent agreed that physical violence exists in society.
“The problem is that some men think they have the right to abuse their wife, sister or daughter because it has become normalised within society. Therefore, this law solidifies [the idea of] domestic violence as an illegal act,” Al Rifai mentioned.
Various Kuwaiti NGOs like Abolish 153 and Eithar have been raising awareness about domestic violence, specially gender-based violence.
The organisations’ members have been lobbying for the past four years for parliament to pass a law in regards to domestic violence. The members have worked closely with several MPs on the draft law that was passed today.
Other than working closely with Abolish 153 and Eithar, Al Rifai worked as a consultant to the women and family committee and helped write and edit the law.
Eithar has also been advocating for the government to create shelters, provide legal resources and immediate relief to victims of domestic violence.
Eithar, the sister organisation of Abolish 153, is a licenced volunteer team that aims at combating violence against women in Kuwait and the GCC.
Whereas Abolish 153 is non-profit organisation working towards abolishing article 153 from Kuwait’s penal code, which effectively gives men regulatory, judicial and executive power over their female kin in blatant disregard of the constitution, international agreements on human and women’s rights and even the Islamic Sharia.
Rise in domestic violence during COVID-19
A surge in domestic violence cases have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the UN to describe the increase as a ‘shadow pandemic’.
According to the BBC, domestic violence cases have increased by 20 per cent during the lockdown, since many people have been stuck at home with their abuser.
A report by Human Rights Watch explains how crises and lockdowns could trigger an increase in domestic violence as a result of factors like stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdown in community report systems.