The Domestic Violence Ordinance 2015, a landmark piece of legislation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, came into force on 3rd December 2021. This legislation will enhance the protection of persons who are survivors of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Ordinance forms part of the Family Legislation that was passed by the House of Assembly in 2015. They consist of the Child (Care and Protection) Ordinance, the Adoption Ordinance, the Family Law (Guardianship, Custody, and Access to Children) Ordinance, and the Domestic Violence Ordinance. Previous legislation did not make provision for persons who are cohabiting to obtain a protection order. However, the Domestic Violence Ordinance which comes into effect today, December 3, 2021, will provide greater protection for victims of domestic violence.
Recognizing that domestic violence is a serious crime against society; that many persons are regularly beaten, tortured, and in some cases even killed by their partners or cohabitants, and that many victims come from social, economic, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds and that children suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from domestic violence, even when themselves not assaulted, this Domestic Violence Ordinance is seen as an absolute necessity in the Islands where acts of domestic violence are on the rise. The Ordinance recognizes that domestic violence is a serious societal problem and that it is necessary to curb it by providing protection generally for all persons in a domestic setting, but it is recognized that women form the majority of victims of domestic violence.
This significant milestone has been achieved through the sustained efforts of the Department of Gender Affairs within the Ministry of Home Affairs, Broadcasting, Energy and Utilities, and the Telecommunication Commission. The process to reform the Family Laws and address domestic violence began in 2009 under the leadership of the former Director of the Department of Gender Affairs, Mrs. Rita Gardiner, The Hon. Attorney General Rhondalee Braithwaite-Knowles QC, Mrs. Doreen Quelch-Stubbs, and many others in partnership with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
This particular legislation comes at a time, when the world is shining a spotlight on violence against women and girls through the observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which takes place annually beginning on November 25- the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and runs until December 10- Human Rights Day.
The present Director of Gender Affairs, Mrs. Carolyn Dickenson marked the occasion by sharing:
“We are extremely happy to finally witness the passage of this landmark piece of legislation that represents a commitment to ending violence against women. Two very important priority areas for Gender Affairs are to ensure that violence against women is eliminated. We further believe that violence must be recognized as systemic and pervasive and a holistic approach must be undertaken to ensure that our response to the issue is as comprehensive as possible by targeting social institutions, attitudes, and practices that perpetuate inequality.”
As part of this mandate, the Hon. Otis Morris, Minister of Home Affairs, stated that the Government through the Department of Gender Affairs is taking a multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach to raising awareness of the new ordinance. Further to this, “We need an all of society approach to end violence against women and girls and will work with all sectors of society including building on partnerships with international agencies, regional counterparts, and local actors to strategize effective mechanisms to achieve this.”
In congratulating the Government of Turks and Caicos Islands on this achievement, Representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office- Caribbean Tonni Brodber emphasized the critical role the Department of Gender Affairs played in securing this legislation:
“UN Women is happy to have supported this process under the guidance of Mrs. Dickenson and through consultations. Legislation is a critical step and UN Women stands ready to continue to support the Turks and Caicos Islands in strengthening effective protection and response measures to end violence against women.”
In addition, to the enforcement of the Domestic Violence Ordinance, other safety mechanisms and legal aspects for the operation of safe housing are being pursued. Undoubtedly, this marks a momentous occasion for the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, particularly victims of domestic and intimate partner violence who will now be afforded greater protection and support under the law.