COMMENCEMENT OF THE FAMILY PROTECTION ACT – Keynote Address: The Prime Minister, Hon. Manasseh Sogavare

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PM Sogavare, centre, flanked by Government Ministers and Officials along with a group representing Solomon Islands diversity at the launch.

COMMENCEMENT OF THE FAMILY PROTECTION ACT

8 APRIL 2016

SOLOMON KITANO MENDANA HOTEL

 Keynote Address:     The Prime Minister, Hon. Manasseh Sogavare

 As the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, I stand here a proud leader – proud that my Government of the Democratic Coalition for Change has demonstrated outstanding leadership in ensuring the Government’s policy for protection of Childrens rights to safety and protection from any form of violence can now be guaranteed through the application of the Family Protection Act 2014, which we are here to launch and implement from hereon.

As a Father and a Grandfather, I am also truly honoured that my children and grandchildren are assured of their safety and protection from violence.

A journey, which found its roots in the evidence provided by the Family Health and Safety Study, which was adopted by Government in 2009, has come to fruition. Solomon Islands not only has a new law that ensures the safety and protection of the family from domestic violence, but that as of 1st April 2016, the Family Protection Act 2014 has commenced and is now in force.

It is therefore my utmost pleasure to commend all of you who have come to participate in this event, which marks the official announcement of the commencement of the Family Protection Act.

I note the presence of my Ministers and as well as that of the Provincial Premiers who have joined us today to share our honourable achievement and to commit themselves to the implementation of the Act.

No culture is immune from domestic violence. In the same way, we can say that no community is immune to domestic violence; in the same we can say that no government or church organization or whatever organization by itself is immune to violence.  What really matters is the leadership and the culture we breed in these organizations – if they are weak then the chances of violence becoming a common thing, becomes a worrying reality.

It therefore follows that unless we the leaders of these communities and organizations are prepared to take a bold stand to say “No to Violence”, the enforcement of the Act will follow the trend many other pieces of legislation have also found themselves in the past – they remain mere legal instruments useful only to the shelves, which also have become their home over the years.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

To have the Family Protection Act in its legal form is an incredible milestone and a key achievement by my Government.

The fundamental purpose of the Act is to ensure that all homes and communities are peaceful and safe for all members of the family; by making certain that there is adequate protection for affected family members and to facilitate enforcement, and ensure sustainability of such protection over time.

The Act not only defines domestic violence but also makes domestic violence an offence that is punishable by fine or a prison sentence. What we normally regard as a private matter is now no longer the case.

The Family Protection Act ensures that perpetrators face the full force of the law if they decide to unleash their wrath on any member of the family, or abuse a family member through other forms of violence.

The Act provides preventative measures so that violent behaviour and violent persons can be stopped in their tracks, before they have the chance to inflict further harm on the innocent and vulnerable members of their families.

The Act is innovative in that it does not create new institutions or create new powers. Rather, the Act enhances current powers of the Police, current powers of the Courts and current duties of stakeholders that have a mandate to stop domestic violence and articulates them so that they are accessible for all citizens and visitors of this country.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

The Family Protection Act has gone through a long consultation and challenging process at the Bill stage. This was to ensure that it meets the requirements of our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as those requirements that are suitable to the Solomon Islands context. As such, the Act takes into account the available resources and skills in the community, the existing formal justice system, and the religious and customary practices of our people. Development of the Family Protection Act has also ensured that human rights and gender perspectives dictate its design and purpose.

On this note, it is my utmost pleasure to commend the key role played by the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Police and National Security in leading the process towards the passage and the commencement of the Family Protection Act.

I should also applaud the SPC Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and the Government of Australia through DFAT for providing the technical expertise and guidance in the development and design of the Act.

To the FPA Legislative Working Group, I salute you for your unwavering support in ensuring that Government fulfils its policy obligation to put in place a law on domestic violence, as well as for making sure that the Family Protection Act effectively protects family members from violence.

It would be remiss of me not to make mention of the national and provincial government bodies, development partners, members of the civil society, and the many groups and individuals who have been consulted far and wide throughout Solomon Islands and abroad and whose voice the Act resonates both in its design, effect and purpose.

Beyond that, I should also acknowledge previous governments for taking the bold step in making certain that a sensitively charged subject is given the recognition it deserves.

Without the Family Health and Safety Study, National Policy on Eliminating Violence against Women, the reform undertaken by the Law Reform Commission on sexual violence, what we have come to celebrate today may still be a long way from getting to this stage. Your vision, efforts, support and contributions have paid off. Solomon Islanders have spoken and we have responded to that call. Well done!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we all know, family violence stands in direct contradiction to our affirmation as a society that we are a peace loving people and that the unity of the family is central to our lives.

The evidence, which stares us in the face from various researches, statistics and daily experiences paint a very different picture. Two out of every 3 women in Solomon Islands are affected by violence in the home mostly by people they look up to, love and trust.

According to the Family Health and Safety Study, women who have experienced intimate partner violence are more likely to have children who are also abused than those who have not experienced partner violence. Far too often, crimes go unpunished and perpetrators walk free. This is unacceptable and we should not condone it as “normal run nomoa”. Violence in the home must be stopped! Victims must be protected! Perpetrators must be punished!

As a society, we have for too long tolerated, excused and justified domestic violence. This means that for a lot of people, accepting violence in the family is entrenched in them.

There is need for awareness at all levels of our Solomon Islands community to help our people understand that domestic violence is harmful for the community, and that its consequences are intergenerational. Now that the Family Protection Advisory Council has been set up, I am sure it will see to it that implementation of the Act is constantly monitored and that reporting to Government and to Parliament on progress is done in a timely and efficient manner.

No one sector can adequately address domestic violence or family violence for that matter. The causes and consequences of domestic violence come to us in different colours, shapes and sizes and are complex in their manifestations.

To that effect, I cannot over emphasize the critical importance of working together to ensure that the Act is fully implemented and serves its purpose.

All of our efforts put together to address this scourge must be the way to go. We have proven that together we can do it. The development of this Act has been a result of collaborations and partnerships. Its completion has been possible through sheer stamina and drive by our many partners and individuals working collectively.

By way of closing, let me re-affirm my government’s commitment to strengthening and supporting gender equality through the elimination of gender based violence and child abuse. The reason is simple.

Domestic violence is a human rights problem; it affects the personal security of persons, the right to life, and the right to lead full lives free from oppression. Women and girls suffer the most from domestic violence; and therefore to be successful in the application of this Act; we must recognise that gender equality and non-discrimination are essential elements for a united, progressive and peaceful co-existence in our society.

Similarly, my Government is committed to strengthening the National Judicial and Legal System and Apparatus in the Country. Effective enforcement of the Family Protection Act is dependent on these key areas being reinforced by government through relevant ministries including the key ministries responsible for the Act.

I am also pleased to say that the FPA does not sit in isolation of other national legislation that is now enforced such as the Police Act. The Government’s legal reform programme will result in laws that compliment the functions of the Family Protection Act. As I speak, the Parliamentary Bills and Legislative Committee is now in the process of scrutinizing the Bill on Sexual Offences in the Penal Code. Also the Child and Family Welfare Bill is now in the completion stage. There is a strong likelihood that both Bills will be tabled before Parliament in its coming sitting in April . Enforcement of these laws guarantee a high success rate in the implementation of the Family Protection Act. I am proud to be part of this event as I’m sure many of you are as well. We are all members of a family unit and a large extended family.

Let us rise up and stand with the Family Protection Act by encouraging our family members and those in our community to report any incident of abuse against them or a family member.

At the end of the day, the Act only kicks in when a case is being reported. We can carve out and enjoy the best systems in the world but if we are not willing to report cases of abuse, the church, custom or state will not be able to deal with you. It is my fervent hope that implementation of the Family Protection Act will be supported in every way possible and that we will use the Act to stand for our rights so as to be assured of a present and a future that is peaceful, secure and prosperous.

Thank you one and all!