RAROTONGA, 24 JULY 2017 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) — Cook Islands Government has passed legislation set to better protect the bedrock of our society, children and families.

In what Health minister Nandi Glassie hailed as an historic occasion, ministers unanimously passed the Family Protection and Support Bill into law on Wednesday of last week.


Its primary objective is to improve the protection of our children and our families.

It consolidates many old legislations into one law encompassing divorce, spousal and child support, parenting arrangements when families separate, and care and protection of children and family violence.

The Bill is said to extend into the privacy of the homes of Cook Islanders to ensure children and families are protected from violence, and is expected to create heated debate in our community.

In 2013, the government commissioned the Ministry of Health to carry out the most comprehensive study on family health and safety in the history of the Cook Islands. In 2014, that study revealed some disturbing statistics in our society, being:

One in three women have experienced violence inflicted by their male partners or male family members in their lifetime. About one in 10 had experienced such violence while pregnant.

One in three women who had experienced such violence never reported it to anyone. Those who did disclose their experience more commonly turned to family or friends.

Only one in 10 turned to counsellors or health professionals and just one in 40 reported the incident to the police.

“Violence against women and children has significant impacts on their health and social well-being. It is never acceptable, and more work remains to defend our women’s rights to a life without any form of violence or abuse.

“Finding ways to stop the violence will require support and understanding to help our women, and men, put in the effort to move away from the norms identified in our country” said Minister Glassie at the time.

The government recognised laws must provide the necessary protection for the most vulnerable of our population, in particular our children, who are the product of how families raise them and how society treats them. Also passed by government was the Harassment Bill, aimed at closing a gap identified in the Family Protection and Support Bill.

That Bill relates to people in a domestic relationship, while the Harassment Bill provides protection for people against repeated incidents of abuse, bullying, stalking and violence – whether physical, verbal or electronic, who are not in a domestic relationship. These people could be neighbours, past friends, or strangers etc.

The Bill defines harassment as engaging in a pattern of behaviour that includes doing a specified act on two or more occasions within 12 months. On conviction the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years, a fine not exceeding $3,000 or both.

Legislation now enables a person to apply for a restraining order to stop another person harassing them.

Further prison terms and fines will also be handed down for breaches of a restraining order.

The passing of those two Bills ended the opening session of parliament for the year which was suspended on Wednesday last week after four weeks of sitting.

A total of nine new Bills were brought into law….PACNEWS [/restrict]