San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Domestic Violence Bill Approved – Again

Six years, five votes and two Legislative Assemblies after its creation, a controversial bill that would increase penalties for violence against women was approved in first debate this week – again. The constitutionality of the bill is now under consideration, again for the fifth time, by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which has a month to deliberate before returning the text to the assembly for a vote in second debate.

If justices determine the bill violates the Constitution, the text could return to commission for revision and another first-debate vote, which is what took place after the previous four votes.

The Law to Penalize Domestic Violence against Women, Bill 13874, was created in 1999, after then-Minister for Women’s Affairs Gloria Valerín, now a legislator and one of the bill’s most vocal supporters, said domestic violence had become a “national epidemic” and tougher legislation is needed to deter violent men (TT, Aug. 6, 1999).

The bill is perhaps best known for its punishment of six months to two years of prison for men who “insult, devalue, ridicule, shame or frighten” women with whom they have “marital relations,” whether or not the union is formally declared. This section of the law prompted the headline “Prison for (a Man) Who Insults a Woman” in the daily Al Día this week.

The law would also punish the murder of a female spouse or domestic partner with 20-35 years of prison, and assigns two to four years for the use of threats, violence or intimidation to force a woman to do something she is not obliged to do, according to a statement from the Legislative Assembly.

The daily La Nación reported that the bill also specifies sentences of 12-18 years for rape of a woman and three to six years for forcing a woman to engage in sadomasochistic practices.

Much of the disagreement surrounding the bill and comprising the consultations filed before the Sala IV stems from the fact that it applies only to women, which some opponents say is unfair.Miguel Huezo of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) said in the statement that the legislation “gives big protections to women” and would cause the disintegration of families. He added that penalties for violent men are already included in the country’s Criminal Code.

However, fellow Unity legislator Lilliana Salas said various countries have adopted similar legislation to respond to increasing violence against women. She said it is “false” to view the bill as a project against men.

In 2005, 40 women died in Costa Rica as a result of domestic violence, Al Día reported.


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