The laws – and their flaws

In 2015, to better protect women, the Algerian legislature put in place a law criminalising sexual harassment, expanding its scope, and strengthening penalties for it. The law also amended the penal code to criminalise domestic violence. For the first time in Algeria, following the implementation of the 2015 law, violence within the family can be prosecuted under Articles 264 to 276 of the penal code, which prescribe penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.

This law made assaulting a spouse punishable by up to 20 years in prison for injuries and a life sentence for injuries resulting in death (Article 266 bis). However, for several reasons, this law fails to fully protect women and end violence against them.

Firstly, the law applies only to spouses and ex-spouses living in the same or separate residences, but does not apply to relatives, unmarried couples, or other members of the household. Provisions on assault and psychological or economic violence do not apply to an individual in intimate non-marital relationships, or to family members or members of the same household.

Secondly, in Article 264, there is a penalty of one to five years in prison and a fine for violent acts that lead to illness or an incapacity to work for more than 15 days. However, a medical certificate is required to prove this, hindering survivors’ access to justice and, by extension, to their perpetrators’ prosecution. In addition, violent acts that do not incapacitate the victim for more than 15 days are considered misdemeanours, except if premeditated (i.e., an ambush) or if a weapon is used (Article 266).



Thirdly, the law does not forbid mediation and conciliation; moreover, if pardoned by a spouse, a perpetrator may even receive a reduced sentence or avoid punishment altogether (n° 15-19, 2015: Article 266 bis, 266 bis 1, 330 bis). There is often considerable social and family pressure on the victim to pardon her attacker and this may dissuade her from seeking court remedies in the future. Another obstacle women encounter besides social pressure is lousy treatment by the police, who are frequently dismissive, discourage them from filing complaints, and lack due diligence and follow-up when carrying out an investigation (if there is one).

In addition, there is no provision for a protective order, known as a restraining order, to protect the victim and improve the prosecution of her case. There are also no provisions preventing an alleged abuser from calling the victim, or requiring them to remain a certain distance away from her, or even to move out of a shared residence. As a result, the victim can be subject to harassment in the best case and retaliation in the worst.

According to emailed comments from Nadia Aït Zai, a feminist activist and founder of the Center for Information and Documentation on the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), "There is indeed a law now on domestic violence, but this is not enough. We have been asking for protection mechanisms, protective orders, as well as a special counter dedicated to the victims from the moment they arrive at the police station until their departure, and even the possibility to place them [in a shelter] immediately if need be."

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