Level of violence against women increases beyond critical point, says centre director

PHOTO: About 300 protesters marched in Nukuʻalofa recently in protest against the government’s move to ratify CEDAW. The marchers were mainly women who were told by some of their church leaders that the United Nationsʻ convention would open the door for same sex marriage and abortion. CEDAW supporters said these church leaders hide behind churches so they continue to discriminate against women.

Violence against Tongan women has increased, even after it was reported as being at critical level.

Talking to Kaniva News through emails, Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, the Director of Women and Children Crisis Centre, said that between 2000 and 2013, the Tongan Police received more than 5000 reports of domestic violence.

Most of the victims were women and children.

Likiliki was responding to questions from Kaniva News about whether ratifying the  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) would help reduce violence against women in the kingdom.

Likiliki, who is a strong supporter of CEDAW, said  Tonga would benefit if it signed  the United Nations’ convention, “through its counselling advocacy and support services and temporary safe housing.”

Likiliki referred to a statement in 2009 by Tonga’s former Police Commissioner Chris Kelly in which he said reported cases of Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) were  just the tip of the iceberg and that ultimately the real situation of VAWC in Tonga was unknown.

She also referred to the Ma’a Fafine moe Famili (MFF) national survey on domestic violence taken in 2009 which found that one in three women who had been in a partnership had experienced physical violence.

A total of 40 percent of  women who had been in a relationship had reported physical and/or sexual violence from a partner at least once in their life.

The report said 68 percent of women had experienced physical violence by a person other than their partner. The findings showed that Tongan women also endured high levels of controlling behaviour by men, with 87 percent of women reporting that their partner insisted on knowing where she was at all times.

Almost two-thirds (57 percent) of women taking part in the survey said they needed to ask permission before seeking health care.

In 2007 the World Health Organisation calculated that the total annual cost of violence against women to Tonga’s economy was TOP$18.3 million (NZ$13 million).

“Reports of violence against women and children in Tonga are increasing,” Likiliki said.

“Statistics from both the Tonga Police and the WCCC show that violence against women and children (VAWC) are at critical levels.”

In 2014 WCCC dealt with 502 cases of women who had experienced domestic violence and 40 who had been raped.

The report also said that 326 girls had experienced domestic violence and 38 girls had been raped in the same period.

According to the 2014 report, the Crisis Centre conducted 665 new and repeat counselling sessions for 29 girls who had been physically abused and 84 who had been sexually abused.

In  2013, 334 cases of domestic violence, including 28 cases against boys, were reported.

Domestic violence report

Tradition is often used to justify domestic violence in Tonga, according to the 2009 study.

The report, which was published in 2012, said: “A commonly perceived justification for the violence is the traditional Tongan power relationships with male dominance, using violence as a means to discipline women (and children), which makes it hard for individual women to stand up for their rights,” the report said.

“Women develop their own strategiesto cope: many pray, some talk to parents, and a very few seek help from official authorities – the latter only when the situation is serious, and when the strength to endure ends.”

The report said violence against women, and against children, was widespread in the kingdom. Violence was mostly perpetrated by partners, but even more by fathers and teachers.

In some cases families sided with husbands and forced them to submit to their husband’s physical and sexual abuse.

The 2009 survey quotes horrifying stories from survivors of domestic violence.

“I lost three teeth that day; luckily I did not lose the baby I was carrying….”

“The second time [that he almost killed me] was when I was pregnant. He was angry at me and wanted to hit me as usual so I ran away from him to one of my neighbours. He ran after me and on his way, he pulled out a 2 x 4 piece of timber from the fence next door and he came up and hit me hard on my back. He hit me again and I fell. The pain was agonizing. I lost my baby as a result of this.”

“My husband was angry at me for putting on a new blouse to go to town. He is always angry when he sees me putting on something new or even just dressing up. When I came back from town one day, he was waiting for me. He brought a cane knife and started to beat me with it. I tried to protect my face with my hands and I ended up getting cuts all along my arm, shoulders and hand. I didn’t know what to do. The pain was excruciating. After he beat me, he forced himself upon me sexually.”

“My husband wanted to sleep with me every night. If I did not sleep with him, he would beat me up and in the morning, he would tell my parents that I was disobedient to him. I ended up hiding from him and he told my parents about this so my parents locked me up in a room with my husband. They told me that it was the duty of the wife to sleep with her husband.”

The main points

  • Violence against Tongan women has increased, even after it was reported as being at critical level.
  • Director of Women and Children Crisis Centre, Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, said that between 2000 and 2013, the Tongan Police received more than 5000 reports of domestic violence.
  • Most of the victims were women and children.
  • Likiliki said Tonga would benefit if it signed  the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

For more information

Women and Children Crisis Centre

National Study on Domestic Violence Against Women in Tonga 2009 (Ma’a Fafine moe Famili, publishd 2012)

Unifem (Fiji office – regional headquarters for the Pacific)

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