Recourse available to female victims of domestic violence (update to ATG28339.E of 17 December 1997) [ATG33789.E]

The following information was provided by an Antiguan lawyer based in St. John's who specializes in domestic violence cases (25 Feb. 2000).

Antigua's new domestic violence law, the Domestic Violence (Summary Proceedings) Act 1999, was passed on 18 February 1999. The Domestic Violence Act is one of two pieces of legislation-the other being the Sexual Offences Act, 1995-adopted from model legislation prepared under the aegis of the Caricom Secretariat. A third piece of legislation, the Sexual Harassment Act, was not adopted by Antigua. The Caricom Secretariat serves Caricom, made up of all the Caribbean Commonwealth countries and headquartered in Georgetown, Guyana.

The courts in Antigua have been very willing to apply the new legislation. One problem has been that people who bring charges under the legislation often back away from or change their minds once a court order is in place. Often this occurs in response to family, social and other pressures. However, the courts have taken the position that once an order has been given, it must be applied. The courts are not allowing people who have brought charges to change their minds.

The object of the domestic violence legislation is the safety of the victim rather than criminalizing the perpetrator. As such the orders provide for removal from the household, counselling of both parties and other members of the household (particularly the children), and ensuring that a "bread-winner" who is removed continues to observe his financial responsibilities.

There are no proper shelters, but a hotline service provided by the Directorate of Gender Affairs appears to be providing good service. Counselling is available, both through government/NGO agencies and private practitioners. Facilities are somewhat scarce, but there is a steady growth of treatment (in the widest sense) for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Victims of domestic violence who have accessed the law have had it applied, but many have not accessed it. One problem is that the police have not conducted any extensive training since the legislation came into force. Women's groups and NGOs have pushed for creation of a special division within the police to handle domestic violence cases. The thinking is that this would be a more effective use of resources than providing training to the entire force. However, neither the police nor government have shown any sense of urgency with regard to this proposal.

Women's groups and NGOs have recommended that the government adopt a more holistic approach, so that all areas of treatment for victims of domestic violence-hospital emergency departments, medical practitioners, the courts, lawyers, the police, Social Welfare Department and NGOs-can work together, sharing resources and statistics. In this way the extent of the problem can be determined and the often scarce resources most effectively utilized. However, this approach has not been adopted by the government, which has approached all of these areas of "social violence" in a piecemeal rather than comprehensive manner.

A 10 March 1999 report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women indicates that the new domestic violence legislation recognizes marital rape as a criminal offence. It also states that Antigua does have a national action plan to deal with domestic violence, that protection and support services are available to victims, and that the government does keep records and statistics on the subject.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Attorney-at-Law specializing in domestic violence, St. John's. 25 February 2000. Correspondence.

United Nations. 10 March 1999. (E/CN/.4/1999/68). Violence Against Women in the Family. [Accessed 18 Feb. 2000]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases.


Resource Centre country files.

WIN News [Lexington, Mass.]. 1997-2000

World News Connection (WNC).

One other oral source.

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International.

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Human Rights Internet.

International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) country reports.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR).

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

WomenWatch. (United Nations).