South Africa’s failure to address domestic violence is a violation of women’s rights, independent UN experts said in a report published on Monday, citing low levels of prosecution and conviction as factors.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) visited the country in September 2019 to conduct a confidential inquiry into allegations raised by civil society organizations.
Available evidence indicated that the scale of domestic violence, including femicide, is alarmingly high, members said.
Harmful practices, scant protection
Many women and girls in South Africa, particularly in rural areas, are victim of harmful practices such as child marriage, abduction for marriage (“ukuthwala”), and polygamy or polygamous unions that often give rise to domestic violence.
CEDAW found those who reported their abuser often did not get the protection they needed. Official figures show that out of nearly 144,000 requests for protection orders in 2018-2019, only around 22,200 were granted. In many cases, the protection order just called for the abuser to sleep in a different room, in the same house.
The experts highlighted the substantial suffering experienced by women and girls frequently exposed to domestic violence, including sexual violence, from a very young age.
Rape, battery and abuse
“Many victims described physical violence including rape, battery with objects, kicks and inflicted burns by their partners, who often abused alcohol or drugs, had low self-esteem or had sadistic tendencies”, the Committee said.
“Some survivors used drugs to cope with the violence or had attempted to commit suicide. Even after leaving an abusive relationship, many continued to suffer from depression, trauma and anxiety.”
The report also noted that in many cases, women had been killed by their partners.
The Committee noted the absence of State-run shelters for women and their children, adding South Africa “cannot absolve itself from its obligation to ensure protection and assistance to victims of domestic violence by delegating the provision of such services to NGO-run shelters without adequately funding them.”
The report includes 34 recommendations for action. They include effective law enforcement, policies ensuring adequate access to justice, protection and victim support services, and measures dismantling patriarchal attitudes and discriminatory stereotypes that legitimize domestic violence.
CEDAW monitors adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Nearly 190 countries have ratified the treaty, which entered into force in 1981.
The 23 members, independent human rights experts who come from around the world, serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States party to the Convention.