Paulina Quintao – The increase in domestic violence cases has been linked to rising levels of polygamy and infidelity in the country.
The Coordinator of Psychosocial Recovery and Development East Timor (PRADET), Luisa Marcal, said data showed that domestic violence was linked to polygamy rather than financial stresses.
Although polygamy is not officially recognized under Timorese law, it continues to be practiced informally. There are also cases where men beat their first wives in a bid to force them to leave the marriage so that they can openly pursue another relationship.
Marcal said PRADET assisted an average of four victims of domestic violence per day, providing shelter for them as they were often unsafe in their own homes. She called for stronger laws to condemn such actions, adding that PRADET would continue to provide morality based education to communities.
According to the second and third report presented by the Timor-Leste government last year to the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 2% of married Timorese women were in a polygamous relationship.
National MP Josefa Alvares Pereira Soares also acknowledged domestic violence cases were increasing due to men taking more than one wife.
She said many women felt ashamed about the situation and were afraid to report polygamy, preferring instead to suffer in silence and remain in the relationship for the sake of their children. "The government and tradition acknowledge monogamy not polygamy," she said.
Under Timorese law only the first wife is recognized and men have a responsibility to pay family and child support. Soares therefore urged women to report cases of polygamy and to pursue their rights under the law.