South Africa Has ‘Obligation’ to Better Address Domestic Violence – UN Women’s Rights Experts

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.