Legislation is there, but implementation missing
Lack of evaluation into the implementation of legislative reforms targeting family violence is one reason there is minimal changes to the national rates of family violence in Samoa.
This was highlighted in the National Inquiry into Family Violence report that was launched last week.
According to the report, national rates of family violence, in particular against women and children have increased, despite legislative reforms made over the past 10 years to address it.
“It appears that for some decision makers, the law is a means to an end and that end might simply be giving the impression of social progress,” the report states.
In 1992, Samoa became party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (C.E.D.A.W.) and since then has achieved impressive legislative reform, which does not appear to have impacted wider society.
“The Inquiry found various examples of a lack of awareness or willingness meaning that the legislative reform had little to no impact,” the report states.
“The lack of implementation of the programme of legislative reform appears to derive from a lack of understanding or knowledge among law enforcement officials and the general public, and an unwillingness to abide by it because it contradicts engrained social attitudes.”
The “key piece” legislation in this area is the Family Safety Act 2013, which deals with protecting families and dealing with family violence, and established protection orders for anyone in any kind of domestic relationship.
Protection orders are issued by the Family Court and can prevent perpetrators from accessing their victims for anywhere between two weeks and two years.
Unfortunately, the serving of protection orders isn’t perfect.
In a public inquiry hearing, Solicitor Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale told the Commissioners there were often delays in the serving of protection orders, putting victims at further risk.
“I wonder how many applicants experience these unnecessary delays caused by either M.J.C.A. not referring to police or police not serving the order. I also wonder how many people have the means to follow up and push for immediate serving as I do with my clients.”
“Do police consider the safety of the victim when they fail to serve the orders?” Savalenoa said.
Furthermore, this cornerstone of protection in the law is hardly known about across Samoa.
In the Samoa Family Safety Study 2017, 24 percent of people surveyed did not know what the Act was, and only 30 percent had heard of it but did not know the contents.
“The report also found that the lack of knowledge of the Family Safety Act 2013 was not confined to the public and interviews conducted revealed that Ministry staff were still coming to understand it and the Police are still in need of more training in the legislation,” the report states.