Violence against women on islands needs higher priority

Violence against women in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba deserves higher priority and more concrete action by the Dutch Government, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens) stated in its 2014 annual report.

The 200-plus-page report, published on Tuesday, dedicated a section to the three public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba that are part of the Netherlands. The size and severity of domestic violence and violence against women and girls is substantial in the Caribbean Netherlands and it is a problem that is largely caused by poverty. Therefore, the Dutch Government needs to concretely tackle both the issue of domestic violence and poverty on the islands, writes The Daily Herald.

The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights recommended giving high priority to measures to combat violence against women and girls; also to determine within short the social minimum on the three islands. A study by the Dutch Regioplan last year and research by the Human Rights Institute have shown that the nature and size of domestic violence is barely registered. Partners in the social and justice sector agree that it is a wide-spread phenomenon with severe forms of abuse. “Domestic violence is a perseverant problem on the islands because of its close ties with poverty. There are little to no facilities to assist victims. Policy is lacking and the approach of fragmentary are not very intensive,” the Human Rights Institute stated in its annual report.

The Institute was critical of the fact that the Netherlands has delayed the ratification of the Treaty of Istanbul, the treaty of the Council of Europe to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, for the Caribbean Netherlands. The Institute urged the Dutch Government to draft a concrete plan and time-frame for the ratification of this treaty for the islands. However, the Dutch Government has committed to setting up a basic approach and a so-called sounding board group to tackle violence against women and domestic violence on short term.

The governments of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have drafted a plan of approach concerning domestic violence and have started the execution of this plan. Social workers have been appointed in St. Eustatius and Saba, while a safe house is being constructed in Bonaire.

According to the Human Rights Institute, the Dutch Government and the islands are jointly working on an integral approach to tackle poverty, improve children’s rights and develop the islands’ economies. The Institute regarded these first steps to combat domestic violence in the Caribbean Netherlands as positive, but noted that a higher priority for measures and more decisive actions were needed because violence against women and girls constituted a severe violation of the fundamental rights of this vulnerable group.

Poverty remained a big problem in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, despite initiatives of the local governments and supporting measures of the Dutch Government. The Human Rights Institute was struck by the many working people who were poor and had to hustle additional income in the informal economy by doing odd jobs. Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Jetta Klijnsma is researching the extent and level of poverty and has pledged to arrive at a social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands in the future. The results of the study by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), expected before this summer, will form an important basis for future policy.

The Human Rights Institute urged the Dutch Government to determine the social minimum on the islands as soon as possible and to take appropriate measures to ensure that residents of the Caribbean Netherlands are at least assured a minimum standard of living. As long as the social minimum has not been set, it would remain difficult to assess the level of poverty and the monitoring of the influence of measures that were taken by government, the Institute pointed out.

The Institute further mentioned the gaps in the youth criminal justice system on the islands. Young suspects and detainees don’t always get the treatment that suits their age because facilities are lacking. There is no youth detention facility on the islands because of the small size of the islands. Young detainees are held in regular cells in the unit for young adults of the Bonaire prison. Also, there are no possibilities for night detention whereby youngsters go to school during the day and only spend the night in a youth detention facility. Night detention improves the chances of these youngsters for a successful return in society, which is one of the principles of the International Children’s Rights Convention.

Another stumbling block is the fact that according to the law, 16 and 17-year-olds can be sentenced to life-long prison terms when they are tried as adults, which is in violation of the Children’s Rights Convention. The Human Rights Institute recommended the Dutch Government to set up a youth justice policy and related criminal legislation in accordance with the Children’s Rights Convention.riminal legislation in accordance with the Children’s Rights Convention.

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