Africa, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-SEYCHELLES: Problems In Paradise

Mercedes Sayagues

VICTORIA, Jul 3 2008 (IPS) - Annette* is a small, lively woman in her early sixties. Married to an abusive husband – who once threw boiling water on her, landing her in hospital – she was not repeating the story with her alcoholic and drug-addicted son. Just as her husband was growing older and calmer, her son was getting increasingly violent.

Increasing numbers of men are reporting domestic violence in the Seychelles, though women are still more severely affected Credit: Carlos Goulao

Increasing numbers of men are reporting domestic violence in the Seychelles, though women are still more severely affected Credit: Carlos Goulao

So Annette reported the son’s abuse to the Family Tribunal. He ignored its repeated warnings and was eventually charged with assault and sent to jail for two years. Some neighbours criticised her, but the mother did not budge.

“It is not right for a son to abuse his mother and I had had enough with the father” she told IPS.

Annette lives on Mahé, the biggest island in the Seychelles archipelago (pop 85,000) in the Indian Ocean. Considered a tourist paradise for its pristine nature and luxurious resorts, the Seychelles is seeing a troubling increase in domestic violence.

In 2006, the Family Tribunal registered 172 cases of spousal violence, rising to 226 in 2007. Greater awareness of the problem through media campaigns and easier reporting procedures at the Police Family Squad only partly explain the 31 percent increase.

“The number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Tessa Siu, research officer with the Gender Secretariat at the Ministry of Health and Social Development.

Experts add that domestic violence is fuelled by the skyrocketing cost of living and high alcohol consumption.

“Domestic violence happens when men drink baka (a cheap local brew) as well as whisky,” says Jean Claude Matombe, communications officer with the National Council for Children, which has run media campaigns against child abuse.

A national survey carried out by the Gender Secretariat last year found that 42 percent of women and 36 percent of men had been emotionally abused by an intimate partner; 27 percent of women and 23 percent of men had experienced moderate physical violence; and 28 percent of women and 26 percent of men had suffered severe physical violence.

While both men and women suffer abuse, physical violence hurts women more: 33 percent of women experienced lasting aches and pain as a consequence, compared to 16 percent of men, and 17 percent of women reported bruises to the face, compared to six percent of men.

Worryingly, the survey found that 11 percent of women have been raped by an intimate partner. Among 555 women surveyed, eight reported contracting HIV due to the abuse and 21 women became pregnant after a partner raped them.

The research findings about abused men underline what police records show. More men are lodging complaints of abuse –- up from 8 cases in 2006 to 18 in 2007, suggesting both an increase in violence against men as well as greater willingness of men to seek help, according to Siu.

Henri*, a calm man in his late fifties employed as a security guard in the market in Victoria, the capital, endured years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse from his wife. She ran the family business, was unfaithful, and insulted and punched him. Once she threatened him with a knife. He endured as much as he could, then sought help from the Family Tribunal and finally divorced her two years ago.

“I have little education but my parents taught me values and respect for others,” he told IPS.

He and other survivors of domestic violence were speaking at a workshop on the issue organised in June in the capital by the Secretariat and GenderLinks, a regional advocacy group.

The workshop followed Cabinet’s approval of a national strategy on domestic violence early this year.

The strategy includes media awareness campaigns, better provision of services to survivors and rehabilitation of abusers, and a change in the law so that domestic violence, now classified as assault, will be recognized as a specific crime with a special magistrate, and fast-tracked through the courts.

The problem is getting people to report the abuse and seek help. The survey found that most victims hide abuse from agencies, family and friends. The reasons given were low expectations of the outcome and love for the abusive partner.

Services for survivors exist, but they are slow and fragmented. Police routinely refer rape victims to hospital for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment to prevent HIV infection.

But it can take months to get an appointment with the Family Tribunal, Probation Services or the Family Squad Unit that deals with abused children.

If the local policeman is friends with or related to the abuser, the complaint does not go far – that was the experience of the four survivors who spoke to IPS.

Last year, Sharon Telemaque, of the gender activist group GEM PLUS, trained some 40 new police recruits on domestic violence and will train another batch this year.

“Their first attitude was, if I am a man, I can slap my partner, but at the end of the day we started seeing changes,” she told IPS.

The survey also found that although six out of ten adults have witnessed domestic violence incidents, they did not intervene because they see it as a private matter.

“As a child, I learned on the street that a woman should be beaten and I had to un-learn it,” says Matombe.

The Secretariat and a group of non-government organizations and churches plan a massive information campaign against domestic violence for the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women from 25 November to 10 December. This will help people un-learn the harmful patterns of domestic violence.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

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