President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that three bills have been introduced by parliament as part of the government’s fight against gender-based violence (GBV).
According to Ramaphosa, SA is on the cusp of the most far-reaching legislative overhaul in the fight against GBV and femicide.
He said the three bills will “help to restore the confidence of our country’s women that the law is, indeed, there to protect them”.
Here is what you need to know about the bills.
Criminal law (sexual offences and related matters) amendment act
The bill creates a new offence of sexual intimidation, extends the ambit of the offence of incest, and extends the reporting duty of people who suspect a sexual offence has been committed against a child.
Ramaphosa said with the amendment, the National Register for Sex Offenders will include all sex offenders. Offenders will remain on the register for longer and the register will be publicly available.
“Until now, it has applied to sex offenders convicted of sex crimes perpetrated against children or people with mental disabilities,” he said.
“The time an offender’s particulars must remain on the register has been increased, and those listed on the register will have to disclose this when they submit applications to work with vulnerable people.”
Criminal and related matters amendment bill
This bill, among others, tightens the granting of bail to perpetrators of GBV and femicide, and expands the offences for which minimum sentences must be imposed.
Under the new bill, Ramaphosa said a prosecutor must place their reasons on record for not opposing bail in GBV cases. He said unless a person accused of GBV can provide exceptional circumstances why they should be released on bail, the court must order their detention until the criminal proceedings are concluded.
“People are angry that many perpetrators of such serious crimes are exploiting legal loopholes to avoid imprisonment, and are frustrated that sentencing is often not proportionate to the crimes. The amendments impose new obligations on law enforcement officials and our courts,” said Ramaphosa.
“When deciding on a bail application, the courts are compelled to take several considerations into account. They include pretrial reports on the desirability of releasing an accused on bail, threats of violence made against a survivor, and the view of the survivor regarding his or her safety.
“When it comes to parole, a complainant or relative of a deceased victim must be able to make representation to the parole board.”
Provisions of the domestic violence act
The act has been tightened due to the unacceptably high levels of intimate partner violence in SA, said Ramaphosa.
It will now cover people in engagements, dating, in customary relationships and actual or perceived romantic, intimate or sexual relationships of any duration.
The bill also extends the definition of “domestic violence” to include the protection of older people against abuse by family members.
Complainants will be able to apply for a protection order online, and an integrated repository of protection orders will be established.
Ramaphosa said the departments of social development, basic education, higher education and health will provide certain services to survivors where needed, and refer them for sheltering and medical care.
“The circumstances under which a prosecutor can refuse to institute a prosecution when offences have been committed under the amended act, or to withdraw charges when it involves the infliction of bodily harm or where a weapon was used to threaten a complainant, have been limited.
“In perhaps the most groundbreaking proposed amendment to the act, if someone has knowledge, reasonable belief or suspicion that an act of domestic violence has been committed against a child, a person with disability or an older person and fails to report it to a social worker or police officer, they can be fined and even imprisoned,” Ramaphosa said.
The president said failure by police officers to comply with their obligations under the act will be regarded as misconduct and must be reported to the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service.