President assents to laws that strengthen fight against Gender- Based Violence
President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law legislation aimed at strengthening efforts to end gender-based violence, with a victim-centred focus on combating this dehumanising pandemic.
The President has assented to:
(i) the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill;
(ii) the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and
(iii) the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.
The enacted legislation is a deliverable from the National Strategic Plan of Gender-based Violence and Femicide, which was called for at the November 2018 Presidential Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF).
The Summit produced a Declaration which resolved, among others, to:
- Fast-track the review of existing laws and policies on Gender-Based Violence (GBV), to be victim-centred and that ensure all other relevant laws respond to Gender-Based Violence;
- Implement recommendations that had been identified from reviews and address legislative gaps, and
- Revisit and fast-track all outstanding laws and Bills that relate to Gender-Based Violence.
On 18 September 2019, President Ramaphosa expressed the country’s commitment to addressing the scourge of GBVF and announced the Emergency Response Plan to address GBVF, which includes strengthening the applicable legislative framework.
The National Assembly subsequently undertook to consider together three Bills as part of legislative measures to strengthen South Africa’s response to Gender-Based Violence.
1. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill amends Chapter 6 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act to:
- Expand the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) to include the particulars of all sex offenders and not only sex offenders against children and persons who are mentally disabled;
- Expand the list of persons who are to be protected to include other vulnerable persons, namely, certain young women, persons with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities and persons over 60 years of age who, for example, receive community-based care and support services; and
- Increase the periods for which a sex offender’s particulars must remain on the NRSO before they can be removed from the Register.
The Bill’s prime goal is to improve the country’s prevention of sex crimes, particularly of paedophilia. It also proposes to expand the ambit of the crime of incest and introduces a new offence of sexual intimidation.
2. The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill amends:
- The Magistrates’ Courts Act, 1944, to provide for the appointment of intermediaries and the giving of evidence through intermediaries in proceedings other than criminal proceedings; the oath and competency of intermediaries; and the giving of evidence through an audio-visual link in proceedings with the assistance of intermediaries; other than criminal proceedings;
- The Criminal Procedure Act, 1977, to further regulate the granting and cancellation of bail; the giving of evidence by means of closed-circuit television or similar electronic media; the giving of evidence by a witness with physical, psychological or mental disability; the appointment, oath and competency of intermediaries; and the right of a complainant in a domestic-related offence to participate in parole proceedings;
- The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997, to further regulate sentences in respect of offences that have been committed against vulnerable persons; and
- The Superior Courts Act, 2013, to provide for the appointment of intermediaries and the giving of evidence through intermediaries in proceedings other than criminal proceedings; the oath and competency of intermediaries; and the giving of evidence through audio-visual link in proceedings other than criminal proceedings, and to provide for matters connected therewith.
The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill aims to address Gender-Based Violence and offences committed against vulnerable persons, and provides for additional procedures to reduce secondary victimisation of vulnerable persons in court proceedings.
The new law expands the circumstances in which a complainant can give evidence through an intermediary and provides for evidence to be given through audio-visual links in proceedings other than criminal proceedings.
This legislation also tightens bail and minimum sentencing provisions in the context of Gender-Based Violence.
3. The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill amends the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 to address practical challenges, gaps and anomalies which have manifested since the Act came into operation in December 1999.
In particular, the amended legislation includes new definitions, such as “controlling behaviour” and “coercive behaviour”, and expands existing definitions, such as “domestic violence”, to include spiritual abuse, elder abuse, coercive behaviour, controlling behaviour, and/or exposing/subjecting children to certain of listed behaviours.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill also introduces online applications for protection order against acts of domestic violence and imposes obligations on functionaries in the Departments of Health and Social Development to provide certain services to victims of domestic violence.
The Amendment Bill also aligns the Domestic Violence Act with the provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011.
President Ramaphosa said: “The enactment of legislation that protects victims of abuse and make it more difficult for perpetrators to escape justice, is a major step forward in our efforts against this epidemic and in placing the rights and needs of victims at the centre of our interventions.
“This legislation demonstrates democracy at work. Civil society’s demands from the gates of Parliament were heard and listened to, and gave rise to our nation reaching a point where the demands of citizens are now cast in our law.
“We must now continue the task of preventing abuse from occurring in the first place. This task entails men and boys checking their own values and behaviours that cause them to regard women and girls as targets of control and abuse.
“It also entails building a society based on advancing fundamental human rights and dealing severely with people who violate others.”
Tyrone Seale, Acting Spokesperson to the President