Gaps in enforcing the Domestic Violence Act will be stopped with the introduction of an initiative to streamline the roles and responsibilities of agencies involved.
Nurhidayah Abdul Ghani, 28, was beaten to death last May by her estranged husband who was abusive throughout their 11-year marriage. She feared for her life – she had filed for divorce, made numerous police reports on her husband’s behaviour, and even received several interim protection orders (IPO). Even her mum and her sister made police reports, alarmed at the abuse Nurhidayah suffered from.
Despite Nurhidayah going through all the official channels, her husband wasn't deterred from attacking her. He beat her, savagely, until she died from her injuries. Her husband and three others have since been charged with murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries a death sentence upon conviction. The case is fixed for hearing on April 28.
Nurhidayah’s case, though extreme, isn’t isolated. There are numerous case where lack of enforcement leaves victims of domestic violence unprotected and open to further abuse, despite victims obtaining protection orders. It's an indication of a glaring gap between existing laws to protect victims of domestic violence and the enforcement of those laws.
Malaysia passed the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) in 1994, the first country in the region to pass a specific law on domestic abuse. It was implemented two years later, and it's been amended several times to further strengthen the law. The DVA recognises all forms of domestic violence as seizable offences (crimes for which the perpetrator can be arrested without a warrant).
It guarantees protection for all victims of domestic violence and provides support such as the IPO, which is supposed to safeguard the victims during ongoing investigations. According to the law, if a protection order is breached, the abuser can be charged and punished with a fine or jail time, or both.
In practice, however, DVA enforcement is seriously lacking, according to social workers dealing with abuse victims on a daily basis. The victims rarely feel protected and IPO breaches often go unpunished. Abusers continue to inflict harm on the victims, and in Nurhidayah’s case, the failure of the authorities to do anything resulted in her death.
“Unfortunately, what we have on paper is not what we experience in practice a lot of the time,” says Melissa Mohd Akhir, advocacy officer with the Women’s Centre of Change (WCC) in Penang.