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THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT

The Domestic Violence Act 2010 provides sufficient protection to members of the
family institution against domestic violence. Do you agree?
The Domestic Violence Act 2010 is the main law geared to the prevention and combating
of domestic violence in Uganda. It was enacted because the existing laws were not
adequate for the above cause. Thus it was framed bearing in mind the weaknesses of the
then existing pieces of legislation. In drafting the bill the relevant parliamentary
committee analysed pieces of legislation from countries such as the United Kingdom,
Botswana, Rwanda, Ghana, Namibia and Sychelles1.
The Act itself puts in place stringent protections against domestic violence. It defines
domestic violence broadly to include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological,
and economic abuse of a victim or anyone related to him/her. (Domestic Violence Act,
Section 2.) Under the Act, harassing, harming, injuring or endangering the victim or
anyone related to the victim for the purpose of coercing them into complying with "any
unlawful demand for any property or valuable security" are also considered domestic
violence. (Id.) The Act casts a wide net in terms of categories of people protected against
domestic violence under its provisions: married people; people related by consanguinity,
affinity or kinship; roommates; domestic workers; employers of domestic workers; or
anyone that the court deems to be or have been in a domestic relationship. (Section 3.)
A domestic violence complaint may be filed before a local council court, which is to make
a written referral to the police and a magistrates' court if the perpetrator is a recidivist,
the victim is in danger, or the violence that has already taken place is serious. (Section
6.) If the violence involves children, a domestic violence complaint may be filed with a
family and children's court. (Section 17.) The Act imposes an obligation on police
officers to advise victims of domestic violence of their legal rights, including the right to
lodge criminal complaints. (Section 7.)
The Act imposes strict penalties for violation of its provisions. It makes domestic violence
an offense punishable by a fine and/or up to two years' imprisonment. (Id. 4.) In
addition, the court (local council court, magistrates' court, or family and children's
court) may order the perpetrator to pay compensation to the victim. (Id.)
Unfortunately, the Domestic Violence Act 2010 does not provide sufficient protection to
members of the family institution against domestic violence. In fact even the legislators
who enacted it were in agreement that the enactment of the law on domestic violence
would not in itself bring an end to domestic violence other measures such as
sensitizing the public against domestic violence had to be adopted2.
The Act defines domestic violence as ...

This definition is highly comprehensive in that apart from physical abuse, acts such as
economic abuse, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, harassment, and

intimidation constitute domestic violence and are also prohibited. One would expect a
great reduction in domestic violence but other reports go to the contrary.
For instance the Deputy Inspector General of Police presented statistics that 72 people
were killed as a result of domestic violence between January and April 2013 and that
there were 2461 victims and 1339 cases of domestic violence reported by April. There
were 9278 victims and 2793 cases of domestic violence in 2012. 3
The incidences of death through domestic violence investigated by the police in 2011
were181 cases compared to 159 cases in 2010 an increase of 14%. It was attributed to
family wrangles, poverty and excessive consumption of alcohol. 4 This is alarming. One
asks why it is so.
The legislators were guided by the desire to keep families together in spite of domestic
violence5. As such the mechanisms put in place to combat and prevent domestic violence
in Uganda have loopholes that can be exploited by the would-be perpetrators. These are
discussed hereafter.
In the first place, for most of the acts to constitute domestic violence in the definition,
they have to be performed by the perpetrator, for example wife against husband or
husband against wife. However in some cases like harassment, the perpetrator commits
domestic violence if he/she repeatedly makes abusive telephone calls to the victim or
causes another person to do so; or if he/she repeatedly sends, delivers, or causes the
delivery of offensive or abusive letters, packages, electronic email, telephone text
messages or similar objects to the victim. 6 literally interpreting the definition of domestic
violence would mean that the perpetrator would cause another person to commit most of
the acts in the Act without him/her (the perpetrator) breaking the law. Expressly
providing that a perpetrator is held accountable for acts of domestic violence committed
by a person he/she has authorized to commit against the victim would have offered better
protection.
Secondly, the punishment prescribed for the offence of domestic violence is not deterrent
enough. Section 4(2) of the Act provides that:
A person in a domestic relationship who engages in domestic violence commits an
offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding forty eight currency points or
imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.
A currency point is 20,000 Uganda shillings and this gives a fine of 960,000 Uganda
shillings an amount that can be easily paid by many middle class employees.
Section 84(1) of the Prisons Act, 2006 provides that a convicted prisoner sentenced to
imprisonment whether by one sentence or consecutive sentences for a period exceeding
one month, may by industry or good conduct earn a remission of one third of his/her
sentence or sentences. This implies that a perpetrator of domestic violence sentenced to
two years of imprisonment could serve less than two years in prison. This is worrying!
A further challenge is paused by the jurisdiction over domestic violence. The Domestic
Violence Act provides for three different courts with jurisdiction over cases of domestic

violence. These are local council courts, magistrates courts and family and children
courts (sections 6, 9 and 17 respectively). Only the last two courts have the power to
issue interim protection orders and protection orders. The local council courts which are
more accessible do not have such jurisdiction.
Worse still, the ability of the victim to access local council courts outside ordinary court
hours is limited. Section 6(11) of the Domestic Violence Act provides that local council
courts may hear cases of domestic violence on days which are not ordinary working
days.
It would probably have been better to construe Section 6(11) as was done for Section
10(6) of the same Act which provides that An application (for a protection order) may be
brought outside ordinary court hours or on a day which is not an ordinary court day,
where the court is satisfied that the victim may suffer undue hardship if the application is
not dealt with immediately.
A strict interpretation of Section 6(11) of the Domestic Violence Act would mean that the
local council court is not accessible by a victim of domestic violence outside ordinary
court hours. It is worth noting that Section 36(1) of the Local Council Courts Act
provides that (a) local council court shall sit for the hearing of cases during the hours of
daylight.
Additionally, mere hardship on the part of the victim is not sufficient to cause application
of Section 10(6) of the Domestic Violence Act. The magistrate must be satisfied that the
victim may suffer undue hardship if the application is not dealt with immediately.
Moreover neither the Domestic Violence Act 2010 nor the Domestic Violence
Regulations, 2011 defines the phrase undue hardship. The magistrate is given wide
discretion to determine whether or not to entertain a case of domestic violence outside
ordinary court hours and ordinary court days.
Section 14 of the Domestic Violence Act 2010 empowers a court to vary, revoke, or
discharge an interim protection order or a protection order. However subsection 2 says
that when an application is made under this section court shall fix a hearing date as
soon as practical but not later than thirty days after the filing of the application, except
where there are special circumstances. This is good since where the protection order is
not effective, the conditions may be varied. The challenge is that the court is given up to
thirty days to fix a date for hearing evidence as to why the conditions should be varied.
Thus where a magistrate fails to appreciate the seriousness of the matter, he/she may
delay the hearing date and the victim could be further exposed to domestic violence. The
protection of the law would have been better if the period within which the magistrate is
obliged to fix the hearing date for the variation of the protection order, in case of special
circumstances, was stipulated.
The implementation

The above challenges are compounded by the high level of apathy in the country. A
survey conducted by the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention reported that of the
people interviewed, 70% of men and 60% of women said a man is justified to beat his
partner under certain circumstances. 9
Justice Stella Arach Amoko, one of the justices of the Supreme Court of Uganda and also
chairperson of the National Association of Women Judges Uganda (NAWJU) was
reported to have said at a conference on womens rights that Our research has revealed
that some judges and magistrates do not have access to this law [the Domestic Violence
Act] while others do not care and they take such cases as women issues.10
Accordingly, the Act should have mechanisms for sensitization. Other than merely
criminalizing domestic violence, the legislators should have labored to educate the public
that wife beating and such related vices are inhumane and barbaric.
The other challenge lies in the fact that the unlike the Domestic Violence Regulations, the
Domestic Violence Act does not talk about shelters for victims of domestic violence.
Regulation 2 defines a shelter to mean a privately or publicly operated facility providing
victims of domestic violence with temporary refuge, lodging, food, and other services
including counseling and medical assistance.
Regulation 22 (4) provides for police referral to the nearest shelter and regulation
22(5) obliges police to maintain a list of all available shelters and service providers of
related services. This appears to be a viable protection.
However, there is very little governmental support for such shelters. Most such shelters
are run by NGOs which give psycho-social support and rely on other NGOs providing
legal aid to assist survivors with legal guidance through the court system. They do not
have sufficient resources to provide post violence access to medical, housing and other
services to all the women who need such aid.
Regulation 22(7) obliges the minister responsible for gender and social development to
develop guidelines for the operationalisation and management of shelters. However, the
establishment and funding for such shelters would have been easier if the Domestic
Violence Act, specifically obliged government to establish shelters for victims of
domestic violence.
In a nutshell, domestic violence has been and it remains a big problem in Uganda. The
Domestic Violence Act 2010 is truly a good piece of legislation laboring to combat the
vice of domestic violence. However it is insufficient for the protection of members of the
family institution against domestic violence. A multi-dimensional approach is required,
emphasizing sensitizing the population on the dangers of domestic violence.

Footnotes
1. Hansard of the eighth parliament of the Republic of Uganda, 11th November 2009, p.10201.
2. Ibid., P10205.
3. Article Domestic violence cases soar, The New Vision (18th June 2013).
4. Uganda Police Force, Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety Report 2011.
5. Hansard of the eighth parliament of the Republic of Uganda, 11th November 2009, P10211
6. Section 2 of the Act.
9. Article Survey: More women think domestic violence is justified, The New Vision 13th March 2013.
10. Article Domestic violence cases soar, The New Vision (18th June 2013).