Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 11:06 GMT

Fiji: Domestic violence, including legislation and protection available to victims (2005 - September 2006)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 30 August 2006
Citation / Document Symbol FJI101719.E
Reference 5
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Fiji: Domestic violence, including legislation and protection available to victims (2005 - September 2006), 30 August 2006, FJI101719.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f1473119.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Overview

The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC) documented 251 new cases of domestic violence from January to June 2006 out of a total of 458 new cases, including rape, sexual harassment, child abuse and other types of violence (n.d.a). In 2005, the FWCC saw 480 new domestic violence cases, out of the 928 cased documented (FWCC n.d.a).

A 26 January 2005 Pacific News Agency Service (PACNEWS) article, citing FWCC findings, reported that more than 1,000 Fijian women are beaten each year in domestic and non-domestic incidents and that "repeated incidents" of domestic violence do occur.

In an interview with the Fiji Times, FWCC coordinator Shamima Ali explained that the increase in monthly domestic violence cases in the capital city, Suva, in January 2006 was due to more frequent reporting of incidents (7 Feb. 2006). Shamima Ali also described a growing trend of domestic violence being accompanied by sexual assault (Fiji Times 7 Feb. 2006).

A 6 April 2006 Fiji Times article cites FWCC representative Edwina Kotoisuva as stating that many sexual offences are not reported, that 74 per cent of victims know their assailant, and that most victims are girls between the ages of 11 and 15. An earlier article also mentions a study by the FWCC, according to which cases of sexual assault by someone known to the victim are less likely to be reported to the police (Fiji Times 16 Feb. 2005). However, a 29 May 2006 Fiji Times article reports a 100 per cent increase in reported cases of sexual offences in the four months preceding its publication.

Edwina Kotoisuva also denounces what she characterizes as a lack of sensitivity and awareness in the media regarding the issue of violence against women (Fiji Times 6 Apr. 2006). In a PACNEWS article, Kotoisuva asserts that work in the field of domestic violence is very difficult, in part due to "in-bred attitudes" and "deep cultural values," which result in "a serious lack of support for victims" (26 Jan. 2005).

The Reserve Bank of Fiji estimates that domestic violence costs US$300 million a year, while a Fiji Law Reform Commission review underscored that police statistics "[are] only a small part of the overall picture" (Fiji 1 Dec. 2005).

Legal framework

One of the five points of Fiji's Women's Plan of Action aims to address violence against women (Fiji 16 June 2006; FWCC 24 Aug. 2005). The FWCC explains that the government launched the 10-year plan in 1999 and suggests that progress on policy proposals was being made before the 2000 coup d'état, but that the plan never received the required level of funding (ibid.). The FWCC also observes that, as of August 2005, Fiji did not have specific legislation on domestic violence, and that, despite some progress in addressing violence against women, the government was still treating legal reform, policy implementation and support for victims as unimportant (ibid.).

The Fiji Law Reform Commission conducted a review of the legislation related to domestic violence and issued a number of recommendations to the government (Fiji Times 18 Jan. 2006; ibid. 1 Dec. 2005; Fiji 17 Jan. 2006). In June 2006, the Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Housing stated his intention to introduce a Domestic Violence Bill in parliament by the end of the year (ibid.; see also Fiji Times 27 Feb. 2006). Although sources indicate that the Bill has been approved by Fiji's Cabinet (Fiji Times 18 Jan. 2006; Fiji 16 June 2006; ibid. 17 Jan. 2006), no indication as to whether it has become law could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In a May 2006 article in the Fiji Times, the Attorney-General of Fiji, Qoriniasi Bale indicated that a review of the Penal Code, as well as the Domestic Violence Bill, would be completed before the end of 2006 (ibid. 29 May 2006). The FWCC has reportedly expressed hope that the new Domestic Violence Bill will define marital rape as a crime and that "restraining orders will be practical and easier to obtain in cases of domestic violence" (Fiji Times 7 Feb. 2006). The Executive Director of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM), Virisila Buadromo, told the Fiji Times that the Fiji Law Reform Commission's recommendation to include a definition of domestic violence in the Penal Code was welcome, as were recommendations on training for the judiciary, health workers and police (ibid. 2 Dec. 2005). Virisila Buadromo has reportedly called on authorities to introduce harsher sentences for sexual crimes (ibid.). The Daily Post, a Suva-based newspaper, indicates that the FWCC has also called for harsher sentences (1 Feb. 2006).

According to the Fiji Times, the government of Fiji has translated the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into Hindustani and Fijian to permit greater access to the text (27 Feb. 2006).

Police and courts' response

According to PACNEWS, Fiji Police public relations officer, Unaisi Vuniwaqa, characterizes domestic violence as one of the "more serious phenomena" that police encounter daily (27 Jan. 2005). She is quoted as saying that domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide are the most commonly reported acts related to violence against women, but that the police force lacks the "legislative authority" to deal with domestic violence (PACNEWS 27 Jan. 2005).

The FWCC reports that in 1995 Fiji police adopted a "no-drop policy" for domestic violence cases, which means that all domestic violence cases must be heard in court (24 Aug. 2005; see also Fiji Times 14 Feb. 2005; US 8 Mar. 2006; FWCC n.d.d). The FWCC suggests that despite the no-drop policy, delays and a lack of sensitivity from police investigators when dealing with victims of domestic violence are common (24 Aug. 2005).

On its Web site, the FWCC provides procedural information for women filing charges against an aggressor (n.d.d). A victim can ask the police to warn the aggressor instead of pressing charges (FWCC n.d.d). If charged, the aggressor is summoned to appear in court (ibid.). If the victim has forgiven the aggressor, she can tell the court, which will then decide to convict or release him (ibid.). Fijian courts can reportedly issue restraining orders to prevent an aggressor from approaching or harassing the victim (ibid.). However, the FWCC's 24 August 2005 report on violence against women in Fiji notes that the victim needs to return to court to press charges if a restraining order is breached, and suggests that this requirement delays police action and puts women at risk (ibid. 24 Aug. 2005).

A spokesperson for the Fiji Police, Sylvia Low, is cited as saying that sexual offences increased by 68 per cent in Fiji in 2005 (PACNEWS 24 Nov. 2005). She is also quoted as saying "the Fiji Police recognizes that there are instances where investigating officers have not been as active in pursuing certain reports of sexual assaults and domestic violence" (ibid.).

A special police unit, the Personal Crime Unit, was reportedly created in 1995 by the Fiji Police to address violence against women (PACNEWS 27 Jan. 2005). In an interview with PACNEWS, police public relations officer Unaisi Vuniwaqa explained that the Unit has four branches in Fiji and that its personnel undergoes "continued training and awareness programs" (ibid.).

The FWCC 2005 report indicates that the four Sexual Offences Units set up by the police in 1995 face difficulties due to a heavy workload and a lack of resources, and that only the office in Suva is fully operational (24 Aug. 2005). The same report argues that police officers lack the appropriate training to deal with evidence collection, and that the Department of Public Prosecution's practices and sentencing in sexual assault cases are "highly inadequate and inconsistent" (FWCC 24 Aug. 2005). In contrast, the Fiji Times reported in April 2005 that an increase in sexual offences was met pro-actively by the police, whose response included a commitment to advise the Social Welfare Department of any suspected cases of sexual abuse (17 Apr. 2005).

The FWCC asserts that health services for victims of sexual violence are highly inadequate in Fiji, especially outside of Suva, where facilities and equipment for collecting medical evidence are absent (FWCC 24 Aug. 2005). The FWCC Web site provides details on the necessary steps for women to take following an assault:

If there is a need for a medical examination, you will be issued a blue Police/medical form by your investigating officer. You must take it with you to the Hospital for your medical examination. The examining doctor will fill in the form after your examination. The Doctor will give you a copy to return to the Police. (n.d.d).

Sources indicate that sentences for domestic violence are rare, often dismissed, or minimal – from two weeks to six months – and that "most couples are made to reconcile in court" (FWCC 24 Aug. 2005; US 8 Mar. 2006). High Court Justice Nazhat Shameem is quoted in the Fiji Times as saying that the justice system in Fiji is turning a blind eye to violence against women (14 Feb. 2005). Shameem also indicated that most "women who have been assaulted are told by magistrates that they ought to reconcile with their husband," and that under the Fiji Criminal Procedure Code, magistrates have "to promote reconciliation between the parties if the charge was of a personal matter" (Fiji Times 14 Feb. 2005). Furthermore, Shameen adds that after all the pressure from a victim's family and her community not to press charges, a woman "is likely to be ostracised," if she does press charges, for wanting to "destroy her family" (ibid.). However, the same article indicates that according to Shameem, the judiciary has started to give more consideration to the circumstances women face when confronted with domestic violence (ibid.).

In an interview with the Fiji Times, the FWCC's Edwina Kotoisuva characterizes a three-year jail sentence received by a Fiji man for the murder of his girlfriend as too short; she also points to an increasing frequency of "lesser penalties on similar cases in the West [of Fiji]" (ibid. 8 Apr. 2005).

Other governmental measures

The FWCC indicates that there are no specific services provided by the government of Fiji to victims of violence against women (24 Aug. 2005). Although the government has posted a number of "Women's Interest Officers" to rural areas, Indo-Fijian women are "largely isolated from various programs," reportedly because most programs target and employ indigenous Fijians (FWCC 24 Aug. 2005). The Women's Interest Officers' work to implement measures of the Fiji Women's Plan of Action is "under-resourced" and they often have to request the FWCC's help (ibid.). A map of their field offices is attached (Fiji n.d.a).

In February 2006, Adi Asenaca Caucau, then Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation, explained to the Fiji Times that her administration provided training and awareness programs for rural women on the Family Law Act of 2003, and was working with the judiciary to make the Act known and to ensure the effectiveness of its corresponding counselling services (27 Feb. 2006).

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

The FWCC was founded in 1984 and offers services to victims of domestic violence, including "crisis counselling and legal, medical and other practical support" (FWCC n.d.c). It also conducts awareness and education campaigns (ibid. 24 Aug. 2005; see also US 8 Mar. 2006). The FWCC is headquartered in Suva, with branches in Ba, Lautoka and Labasa (FWCC n.d.b; ibid. 24 Aug. 2005; see also US 8 Mar. 2006). It has "mobile counselling clinics" in Sayusayu, Somosomo, Rakiraki, Nadi, Sigatoka, Navua, Nausori, Korovou, Levuka and Tavoki (FWCC n.d.b). The FWCC also operates a 24-hour counselling phone line (ibid. 24 Aug. 2005).

No information on other NGOs working in the field of domestic violence could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. According to the FWCC, they are "the only organization raising awareness on violence against women as a human rights violation" and they provide the only "appropriate counselling and support" for victims of domestic violence (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Daily Post [Suva, Fiji]. 1 February 2006. "FWCC Calls for Harsher Rape Punishment." (Fiji Women's Crisis Centre). [Accessed 22 Aug. 2006]

Fiji. 16 June 2006. Ministry of Information. "Shiu Raj Encourages Value and Recognition for Women." [Accessed 22 Aug. 2006]
_____. 17 January 2006. Ministry of Information. "17/1/06 – Cabinet Approves Introduction of Domestic Violence Legislations." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]
_____. 1 December 2005. Ministry of Information. "News Briefs Thursday – Dec. 01, 2005." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Women, Culture and Heritage and Social Welfare. "Contact Details." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]

Fiji Times. 29 May 2006. Reijeli Kikau. "Holistic Review Ready Soon." (Factiva)
_____. 6 April 2006. Dorine Narayan. "Centre Urges More Respect for Women." (Factiva)
_____. 27 February 2006. "Document for Women Translated." (Factiva)
_____. 7 February 2006. "Attacks in Homes Worries Centre." (Factiva)
_____. 18 January 2006. "Women Welcome Domestic Bill." (Factiva)
_____. 2 December 2005. "Crisis Center Happy With Law Reform." (Factiva)
_____. 1 December 2005. "Reclaim the Vulnerable." (Factiva)
_____. 17 April 2005. "Police Move on Sex Abuse." (Factiva)
_____. 8 April 2005. Otilly Rabuku. "Centre Decries Killers Jail Term." (Factiva)
_____. 16 February 2005. "Female Force Mooted." (Factiva)
_____. 14 February 2005. Reijeli Kikau. "System Blind to Victims." (Factiva)

Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC). 24 August 2005. "Services for Violence Against Women in Fiji." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.a. "FWCC Statistics. New Cases." [Accessed 18 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.b. "Map of Local Network." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.c. "Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Suva Office." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]
_____. N.d.d. "Lodging a Complaint." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]

Pacific News Agency Service (PACNEWS) [Suva, Fiji]. 24 November 2005. "Sex Cases Go Up: Fiji Police." (Factiva)
_____. 27 January 2005. Special PACNEWS Reports. "Women's Issues, Women's Voices – Regional Media Training Workshop, Suva, Fiji." (Factiva)
_____. 26 January 2005. "Domestic Violence Rises." (Papua New Guinea Post Courier/Factiva)

United States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Fiji." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 18 Aug. 2006]

Attachment

Fiji. N.d. Ministry of Women, Culture and Heritage and Social Welfare. "Contact Details." [Accessed 21 Aug. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC) did not respond within the time constraints of this response.

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Fiji Human Rights Commission, Fiji Law Reform Commission, International Women's Rights Action Watch – Asia Pacific, Office of the Attorney General of Fiji, Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, WomenWatch.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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