Earlier this month, Timor-Leste approved its first domestic violence law, eight years after it was initially drafted. The legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law, with 30 votes in favor and three abstentions. Domestic violence is widespread in Timor-Leste, but is severely underreported. Most cases of domestic violence are resolved through traditional practices like the perpetrator paying a fine to the victim’s father.
Under the new law, “Police will be bound to investigate domestic violence crimes and victims will, under law, have access to emergency medical help, shelter, psycho-social and legal support services,” Pornchai Suchitta of the UN Population Fund told IRIN. The law also requires education on domestic violence to be included in school curricula and ensures that victims, not their fathers, receive monetary fines from perpetrators.
According to the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), opponents of the law argued that the law goes against the traditional culture and definition of the family in Timor-Leste. Fernanda Borges, President of the Parliamentary Committee for Government Legislation in the country, told UNIFEM, “we can’t use culture as a justification to commit violence. Violence is a crime. Timorese culture does not teach us to be violent.”
Flora Soriano Menezes, of a local NGO, told Irin “In Timor-Leste, it’s very common for men to pay a bride price, and sometimes they think that paying the price means they own their wives like they own animals.”