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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 13:17 GMT
South Africa targets domestic violence

South Africa's violent culture is seen by some as a legacy of apartheid

By Africa correspondent Jane Standley

New legislation comes into force in South Africa on Wednesday in an attempt to combat the high levels of domestic violence.

The new Domestic Violence Act aims to increase the amount of help the police and the courts can give to child and adult victims.

But the South African Government has already said it is sceptical of whether it can fulfil the obligations of the Act.

The welfare minister says he does not know where the money will come from to provide the services outlined in the act, such as shelters for abused women and children.

Statistics for domestic and sexual violence and the abuse of children are hotly disputed in South Africa.

Arguments rage over whether an adult rape is committed every 36 seconds, every 11 seconds or every four seconds - depending on how police records are interpreted.

Yet only a small proportion of sexual and domestic crimes is reported and even fewer cases are followed up by the hard-pressed police force.

Violence rampant

There is however little dispute that sexual and domestic violence are rampant. A woman is killed by her spouse on average every six days.

The new act allows protection orders to now be issued free of charge and around the clock by the courts and the police will be able to arrest a suspect without a warrant.

Social workers and police officers are also compelled by law to report possible ill treatment and to tell victims that they are entitled to protection.

If they do not, then officers can be fined.

The act also widens the definition of abuse to include non-married relationships.

Campaigners argue that changing attitudes is the priority - and not only among the general public.

More than 100 police officers have been charged with rape this year, and several judges have caused outrage by failing to apply new minimum sentencing legislation which is intended to deter rapists and child abuses.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Africa
South African rape victims fight HIV
28 Oct 99 |  Africa
Mbeki questions SA rape figures
05 Oct 99 |  Africa
Fighting back against rape
28 May 99 |  South Africa elections
South Africa's crime crisis

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