NEXT week marks the one-year anniversary of Solomon Island’s Family Protection Act.
The government and the people of Solomon Islands should be congratulated on this landmark legislation.
The Act is important because it sends a clear signal that family violence is unacceptable, anywhere, anytime.
It also establishes important new rights to protect people from family violence.
Anyone who has been subjected to violence from a family member, or fears they will be, can apply for a protection order from a local court justice or a magistrate.
Protection orders can impose legal restrictions on the family member’s contact, access or behaviour as necessary to prevent the violence.
Police have new tools under the Act.
They can issue a policy safety notice immediately where they have reason to suspect family violence has or might occur.
As with protection orders, these notices can impose restrictions to protect potential survivors.
Importantly, the Act is not limited to physical or sexual violence.
Psychological and economic abuse - excessive possessiveness or jealousy, insults, ridicule, stalking, intimidation, unreasonably controlling behaviour and withholding necessary financial support - can constitute family violence.
The Act covers abuse between spouses, family members, parents to a child, or where one person is a domestic worker in the others house.
And while it is usually women and girls who are the survivors of violence, the Act is not only for them. All the protections are available to men who suffer family violence.
An important element is the mechanisms for referral to support services. In Honiara:
· The SeifPles Crisis Centre(ph24677/132) provides medical aid, emergency accommodation and the 132 support hotline.
· The Family Support Centre (ph20619/26999) provides counselling and advice.
· Christian Care Centre (ph7651223) provides accommodation for up to two weeks.
· The Family Support Unit of the Public Solicitor’s Office (ph22348) also provides valuable advice and support, including assistance to organise an interim protection order.
If you need any of these services, or even just have questions, please contact them.
If you are in immediate danger, please call the police on 999 or SeifPles on 132.
Already we see the law is having an impact.
As at 31 January, 278 police safety notices had been issued. But we know that many people still need protection.
The newly passed Child and Family Welfare Act, when enacted, will help by putting in place further protection mechanisms for children.
Family violence is a serious issue in Australia as well, and while we don’t have all the answers, it is important to share what we have learnt.
Australia was proud to have been able to help the Solomon Islands Government develop the Act, and we will continue to assist with its implementation.
I know some view family violence as a private matter – something to be sorted out in the home. I don’t agree.
Family violence’s social and economic impact alone means it cannot be a private matter. It takes up scarce police, justice health and social service resources.
Lost days at work costs businesses in productivity.More than that though, it takes a horrible toll on individuals, families and communities.
Home should be where people feel most safe. Sadly, for many people, particularly women and children, it is not.
I know this means changing attitudes, which is a long-term endeavour. It starts with us rejecting the idea that violence against women and children is acceptable. This burden cannot fall on women alone. There are many important male champions of change.
It also means recognising how pervasive violence is, and providing supportive environments to deal with these issues.
The Australian High Commission has recently introduced a workplace family violence policy for our own staff.
Ending family violence is a huge challenge, and requires us all to work together.
We all have an interest in the success of the Family Protection Act.
- From the Australian High Commissioner's Desk