A decoy for the nation

Is it possible that we re­main so utterly uninformed as to automatically accuse anyone opposing a new Bill of supporting domestic violence? It should be obvious to all that the least one should do is to have first read and fully understood the proposed law and its implications before indulging in violent retaliation against any opposition to it.

It is a paramount duty to act against domestic violence at national and international level and it is laudable that the punishment for rape be raised. However, it is no more than cheap political showmanship when members of Parliament choose to slang each other off over a Bill that even the Hungarian Parliament has declared a Trojan Horse.

Maltese citizens must not be duped into believing that this Bill is intended simply to protect victims of domestic violence when it is designed to repeal the present Domestic Violence Act while stripping away the rights of parents as primary educators.

This is an appeal to all Maltese parents and educators to look more closely at what is being proposed, there being no greater evidence that this Bill is fundamentally flawed than when members of Parliament resort exclusively to direct attack on all voices of dissent, having found no other way of defending it.

We demand genuine discussion on the true content of this Bill. At its most basic level, it makes no legislative sense to repeal a law that has already transposed the Istanbul Convention.

Despite its name, this Bill is less concerned with the protection of victims of domestic violence than it is with the creation of universally gender-neutral language. It is intended to create the illusion of Parliament enforcing the Istanbul Convention when the reality is that the Convention is already part of our law, specifically chapter 532 of the laws of Malta.

What does it say of our Parliament when it shamelessly resorts to cheap attempts to trick and make a mockery of the Maltese people in its efforts to push through laws that purport to be something other than what they really are?

This Bill is not about protecting victims of domestic violence. They are already protected under the current local laws. It is about redefining the defined and sabotaging the rights of the Maltese people to leave them at the mercy of an ideological agenda.

While the Istanbul Convention contains many useful provisions that could effectively help victims of domestic violence (shelters, legal aid, restraining orders) the vast majority of these positive provisions are already regulated by the national legislation.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, clearly said: “I have noted that the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill currently pending in Parliament is formulated in a gender-neutral way and does not make any specific reference to women. However, the Istanbul Convention is based on the understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence committed against women because they are women.”

This Bill, as it stands, defeats the purpose of the Istanbul Convention, which is that of increasing protection of women specifically because they are women. Instead, it renders women gender-neutral, robbing them of the exclusive characteristic that the Istanbul Convention sets out to protect.

How can we claim that this Bill is intended to introduce a more robust protection for victims of domestic violence when it strikes the unborn child off the list of household members?

The current Domestic Violence Act, Chapter 481 of the laws of Malta, includes and refers to the “child conceived but yet unborn”.  The Bill will repeal this law and, in so doing, omits the unborn child from the list. This is no mere oversight and the fact that no proviso has been made for it can only mean that the carefully-camouflaged pro­cess of stripping away every form of protection for the unborn child has advanced another step.

According to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. The Istanbul Convention departs from this understanding, resulting in severe infringement of the rights of parents to ensure their children receive education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

If parents oppose controversial sex education classes and correlated books where children are encouraged to explore different sexual orientations, they will henceforth be accused of violence.

Eradicating customs that are based on the inferiority of women is praiseworthy but the Istanbul Convention also seeks to change “social and cultural patterns of behaviour of women and men with a view to eradicating prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices which are based on… stereotyped roles of women and men”.

Culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honour’ shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. Does this mean criminalising institutions that base their teaching on all the psychological and biological evidence that there do exist differences between men and women?

In Germany, families who wish to opt for home schooling are facing tremendous pressure to conform. In the case of the Wunderlichs family, the German government violently removed children from their home. Such behaviour is not acceptable under Germany’s international obligations to the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

This sort of Marxist aggression should provide a deterrent to European countries from using such in terrorem tactics against families. When the State sabotages the “prior rights of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”, it justifiably lays itself open to accusations of domestic and even national violence.

Sara Portelli is a lawyer.

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