Saint Kitts and Nevis: Availability of assistance, either governmental or non-governmental, to women who have suffered domestic violence (1995-2001)
|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||21 June 2001|
|Citation / Document Symbol||KNA37167.E|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Saint Kitts and Nevis: Availability of assistance, either governmental or non-governmental, to women who have suffered domestic violence (1995-2001), 21 June 2001, KNA37167.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df4be5718.html [accessed 6 May 2015]|
Domestic violence in Saint Kitts and Nevis is reported as being an important issue, but one for which women are reluctant to file complaint or to seek redress in the courts (Country Reports 2000 2001; AmericasCanada.org 1999). The low rate of reporting has been attributed to a tradition and culture which frowns upon outside interference in what is considered by many to be a private "family matter" (Caribbean Week 30 Mar. 1996). The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs spoke of the need to address and break down the religious and cultural belief systems that allow domestic violence to continue and that perpetuate the belief in the superiority of one sex over another (15 June 2001).
As exemplified in a case of domestic violence that was reported in The Observer, even when cases do reach the courts, the decisions are not necessarily favourable and leave the "distinct impression that if violence occurs within a 'romantic' relationship it will not be taken seriously in St. Kitts" (18 Jan. 1997). In this instance, a man who was accused of physically wounding his girlfriend faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison, but the Magistrate who felt that the complainant had in some way contributed to the events, sentenced the man to a three months bond of $450, meaning that he would receive his money back if, after this time, he did not appear before the court on further charges (ibid.). The proceedings themselves were reported as being peppered with frequent laughter, and in his closing argument the defense attorney labelled the incident "a lover's spat" (ibid.).
Notwithstanding the low instances of reporting and the few court trials, there have been both publicly reported cases of domestic abuse and convictions (Country Reports 2000 2001). Various initiatives, largely introduced by the Ministry of Health and Women's Affairs and by its successor the Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs, are seen as improving the levels of awareness, reporting and conviction (ibid.; UNDP Jan. 2000).
A National Committee for the Eradication of Violence against Women and Children has been established and reportedly effective police training programmes and awareness raising campaigns have been introduced (AmericasCanada.org 1999; ECLAC/CDCC 1 Nov. 1999). At the community level, women have been educated regarding the ramifications of abuse and their options in addressing the matter (AmericasCanada.org 1999). As was expressed by the delegation of Saint Kitts and Nevis at the Ninth Conference of Spouses 1999 and corroborated by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs, women must be made aware that "violence is not tolerable, that in our Federation there is a zero tolerance for abuse at home, in the workplace and in society as a whole" (ibid.; 15 June 2001). In 1996, in order to discuss the issue of domestic violence and to "break the conspiracy of silence," Saint Kitts and Nevis held their first national conference on violence against women and children, bringing together members of the public, government officials, educators, and community activists (The Observer 30 Mar. 1996; Caribbean Week 30 Mar. 1996; ECLAC/CDCC 1 November 1999). As well, the Ministry of Health and Women's Affairs printed a brochure, entitled "Say No To Violence," which defined the different forms of abuse and the contributing factors involved (The Observer 24 Mar. 1996). The brochure, now produced by the Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs, is still in circulation (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs15 June 2001).
Medical assistance and counselling are offered through the Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs (ibid. 15 June 2001; The Observer 18 Jan. 1997). According to the Ministry, women's shelters are not a viable option for Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Permanent Secretary went on to explain that, when using shelters for women victims of violence, anonymity is a great asset, but such anonymity in a country of only 68 square miles and 40,000 people is not possible. In order to offer women any sort of protection, therefore, women's shelters would have to become 'armed camps', thus revictimizing the victim (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs 15 June 2001). Instead, the policy in Saint Kitts and Nevis has been to identify persons in the community who are willing to offer shelter in their private homes to women and children (ibid.).
Since 1997, training has been offered to police officers and school guidance counsellors on issues of domestic violence (Country Reports 2000 2001). A ll new police recruits, as part of their basic training, are instructed in such issues as human rights, violence against women, rape trauma, and domestic abuse syndrome and the three courses Understanding Violence against Women and Children, Rape Trauma, and Domestic Abuse Syndrome have been incorporated into the curriculum of the Saint Kitts and Nevis Police College (ECLAC/CDCC 15 March 2000; ibid. 1 Nov. 1999; AmericasCanada.org 1999). Modules on gender-based violence have now become an integral feature of the curriculum of police training for both new recruits and seasoned officers (ibid.). The Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs has also introduced a two day course for police officers, nurses, school counsellors, and non-governmental representatives including members of churches that offers training on gender-based violence, domestic abuse and gender awareness (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gernder Affairs 15 June 2001). The course advocates a 'victim-friendly', multi-agency approach to dealing with issues of gender-based violence (ibid).
Addressing the United Nations' General Assembly during a Special Session, the Saint Kitts and Nevis representative reported that "legislative amendments have been enacted to increase penalties for all forms of sexual abuse, and a domestic violence act was passed by our Parliament" (UN 8 June 2000). According to a member of the editorial committee of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean/Caribbean Development and Co-operation Committee's (ECLAC/CDCC) Newsletter, Gender Dialogue, Saint Kitts and Nevis enacted the Domestic Violence Act in January 2000 (13 June 2001). The Act is scheduled to come into force 25 November 2001 (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs 15 June 2001). This event, the date of which was chosen to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, will be celebrated with a week of activities designed to bring attention to the issue of gender-based violence (ibid.). Prior to this Act being passed, domestic violence cases have been prosecuted under the "Offenses Against the Person Act" (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs 15 June 2001). Training on this Act has been incorporated into the two-day course offered by the Ministry (ibid.). Saint Kitts and Nevis has ratified both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (acceded 25 April 1985) and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (ratified 17 March 1995) (Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs 21 June 2001).
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 to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
AmericasCanada.org. 1999. "Ninth Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas."
Caribbean Week. [St. Michael]. 30 March 1996. "The Silence is Broken: St. Kitts-Nevis Holds First National Conference on Violence Against Women and Children."
Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 21 January 1997. "Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention."
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC.
Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Caribbean Development and Co-operation Committee (ECLAC/CDCC). 15 March 2000. "Study of Gender Mainstreaming in the Caribbean."
_____. 1 November 1999. "Third Caribbean Ministerial Conference on Women: Review and Appraisal of the FWCW Platform for Action."
Gender Dialogue, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 13 June 2001. Correspondence from a member of the editorial committee.
Ministry of Community, Social Development and Gender Affairs. Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. 15 June 2001. Telephone interview with the Permanent Secretary.
_____. 21 June 2001. Telephone interview with Permanent Secretary.
The Observer. [Basseterre]. 18 January 1997. "Domestic Violence: A Laughing Matter in Magistrate's Court."
_____. 24 March 1996. "Kittitian Youth March Against Violence."
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Development System for the Eastern Caribbean. January 2000. "Sub-Regional Common Assessment of Barbados and the OECS."
United Nations (UN), General Assembly. 8 June 2000. "Movement to Recognize Women's Rights 'Revolutionary and Uplifting' United States tells 'Women 2000' General Assembly Special Session."
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including:
Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action
Caribbean Human Rights Network
Global List of Women's Organizations
Inter-American Commission of Women
International Women's Rights Action Watch
Saint Kitts and Nevis, Official Government Website
UN Division for the Advancement of Women
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Women's Human Rights Network
Women's Human Rights Resources