Legal changes to offer better protection to Albania domestic violence victims

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 14, 2017 13:05

Legal changes to offer better protection to Albania domestic violence victims

Story Highlights

  • Sharing the stories of Marta, a 29-year-old woman who gave up her application for a protection order after failing to pay for the experts called up by the court, and Majlinda, another woman whose children were placed under their father's custody despite witnessing violence against their mother, Health and Social Protection Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said “such cases will no longer happen."

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TIRANA, Nov. 14 – Faced with a rising number of domestic violence victims, including the killing of a female judge few months ago, the Albanian government has proposed some changes to the current law in a bid to offer better protection to victims by speeding up the issue of protection orders and providing them with free legal assistance.

Sharing the stories of Marta, a 29-year-old woman who gave up her application for a protection order after failing to pay for the experts called up by the court, and Majlinda, another woman whose children were placed under their father’s custody despite witnessing violence against their mother, Health and Social Protection Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said “such cases will no longer happen.”

“More than 3,400 domestic violence cases were reported in the first nine months of 2017, out of which there were 1,940 applications for protection orders. Unfortunately, eleven people, eight of whom women and mothers lost their lives,” said minister Manasterliu.

“Under the changes we are proposing, domestic violence victims will receive free legal assistance and free lawyers from the National Chamber of Advocacy. The proposed legal changes also clearly envisage the obligation by all state authorities for the free of charge provision of expertise in domestic violence cases, while the cost of experts summoned by the court such as psychologists and forensic experts will be covered by the perpetrator,” added the minister.

The current law punishes domestic violence perpetrators with up to five years in prison, but tighter penalties adopted in 2013 have not helped curb the phenomenon.

Under the proposed changes, courts will also have to decide on protection order applications within 15 days while their decisions will be final in order to avoid common appeals delaying victims’ protection from immediate threat.

Protection orders issued on mother victims will also automatically provide protection to children who will be placed under their mothers’ custody even though they might have not been direct targets of domestic violence.

The proposed changes also envisage fines of up to 100,000 lek (€742) for authorities who neglect obtaining the necessary evidence required by courts to issue protection orders for domestic violence victims.

Few months ago, there was public outrage in Albania after a 39-year-old judge was shot dead in broad daylight by her ex-husband in a downtown Tirana neighborhood.

Fildes Hafizi, a mother of two, had been issued an official protection order, but it wasn’t enough to protect the victim from her violent ex-husband. She had told friends she was afraid for her life after her ex-spouse was released from prison for beating and threatening her.

Agustela Nini-Pavli, a project analyst at the UN Women office in Albania, says the implementation of laws and policies is key, but it is equally important to find ways to challenge traditional gender stereotypes and change sexist mentalities in Albanian society.

“Men need to understand that the way they treat their spouses, mothers, daughters or partners is not a private matter and has legal consequences. Women need to have a strong support system and trust the authorities so that they can feel confident in coming forward and put an end to violent situations. Girls and boys need to learn from a very early age at school and at home that violence should not be tolerated,” Nini-Pavli says in an article published on the UN Women portal, highlighting a more important role the civil society can play in ending violence against women.

A rise in domestic violence cases is also believed to have led to a higher number of divorces. Police say some 2,200 protection orders were issued on violated women in 2016.

Domestic violence claimed between 20 to 30 lives a year in the past five years and affected thousands, but a network of women empowerment lobbying to provide rehabilitation services to violence perpetrators claims only up to 15 percent of women in Albania report cases to the authorities.

In addition to Albania’s legal framework, the problem is with the fact that the victims don’t consider domestic violence as an offence or they are frightened of reporting the incidents because it could trigger shame on their families. Other reasons for the underreporting and failure to complain about violence, include their inability to financially support themselves and their children when they leave or divorce their partners, the women’s network says.

“Domestic violence has been treated more as an individual problem belonging only to family members and not the society. It is a government and individual responsibility to undertake efficient steps in protecting women and children as well as preventing violence. Statistics show that still only 5 to 15 percent of violated women report violence. Studies also show domestic violence, especially against women and girls, has increased during the transition period,” says the Albanian Women Empowerment Network, AWEN.

“This complicated issue with its roots in marital relations, also has a negative impact on parenting. Women victims of domestic violence usually find it difficult to concentrate and efficiently work with their children, they are more prone to avoid or deny situations and neglect the influence of violence on themselves and their children. These mothers are at risk of being killed or get seriously injured and most of the time suffer chronic pain, depression, psychosomatic disorders, unwanted pregnancies, spontaneous abortions and so on,” says AWEN, a network composed of nine other women rights associations throughout Albania.

International experts say effective intervention in domestic violence cases involves inter-agency efforts to institutionalize procedures that centralize victim safety, improve offender accountability, and change community climate to be intolerant of domestic violence.

According to the latest data, more than half percent of women and girls in Albania suffer at least one form of gender based violence.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 14, 2017 13:05