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Tajikistan fights domestic violence
With the country's first-ever law against domestic abuse, advocates hope to mitigate tragic conflict in the home.
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE – After Ranokhon had given birth to her fourth child, her husband brought home another woman as a "second wife."
When Ranokhon tried to drive away her new rival, her husband beat her.
"Unable to stand humiliation anymore, I filed a report with the police and decided to leave him," Ranokhon explained. "My husband begged me to withdraw my complaint … and promised never to hurt me again; ... His mother even talked to me on his behalf. … I agreed, … but just a few days later he started beating me again."
The young mother, along with her four children, finally left her husband and moved in with her parents. Lawyer Mavlyuda Ziyoyeva is helping her to pursue a fair legal settlement against him.
Ranokhon's story is much like those of thousands of other Tajik women who have sought to escape domestic violence. She married early, never registering the union, and now is seeking help from the Anti-Crisis Centre, which supports victims with shelter, medical care, counselling, and legal assistance in conjunction with the NGO Women Lawyers' League.
In January, Tajikistan passed its first-ever law to prevent domestic abuse.
Now human rights activists are confident that they will be able to help the country solve many problems in that area.
The new law is "very timely," Ziyoyeva told Central Asia Online, noting that she hears stories like Ranokhon's "almost every day."
The law provides for free medical and legal assistance to domestic violence victims, parliamentary Women's and Family Affairs Committee Chairwoman Sumangul Tagoyeva said. Those convicted of domestic abuse will be fined at least 80 TJS (US $16.80) and sentenced to five to 15 days in jail. Also, the law includes preventive measures, such as family counselling and psychological consulting. Victims are also entitled to request assistance from centres and to seek temporary shelter there.
The law aims to protect not only women but also men and children. However, women are the ones who most often seek protection against domestic abuse.
"Unfortunately, women's poor education, coupled with imperfect laws, has stacked the odds against victims of domestic abuse," Ziyoyeva explained. "In a luckier scenario, a woman would turn out strong enough to leave and would have a place to go for the family conflict not to end tragically."
With this law, activists expressed hope that fewer women will turn to suicide as a way out of an abusive situation. Last year, 287 women – down from 327 the year before – committed suicide in Tajikistan, Tagoyeva told Central Asia Online.
"That's a horrifying figure for our relatively small country [of 8m residents]," she said. "Even with the law against domestic abuse in place, we'll have to work really hard to reduce the number."
Seeking more reports
Of the more than 32,000 citizens who turned to the country's 29 existing anti-crisis centres in 2012, 40% complained about domestic abuse, she said. More than 80% of Tajik women reportedly have suffered from domestic violence at least once, but very few of them have reported their maltreatment to the police.
"Victims are reluctant to file complaints, fearing the husband or his family's revenge or the shame they may be exposed to," Human Rights Centre analyst Larisa Aleksandrova said.
Before the new law was enacted, dealing with domestic abuse issues with police "used to be difficult," Col. Lola Otabayeva, chief of the Tajik Interior Ministry's legal support unit, said.
"Domestic violence is fairly difficult to prove in court," she told Central Asia Online. Victimised women may "change or revoke testimony or withdraw a complaint."
"Still more often, they don't believe from the outset that police can help them," she explained. "Police officers often brush such cases aside, which then stall indefinitely at the local police station."
The new law is being called a good starting point, but more needs to be done to change mind-sets, one activist said.
The law is "fairly good," but one would like to see it "set higher standards for accountability for government agencies and the judiciary," Women Lawyers' League leader Zebo Sharipova said.