“It was truly a collaborative partnership between the Ministries of Education and Training, Internal Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Police, the Civil Society partners namely the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children (TNCWC) and Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC), Ma’a Fafine & Famili(MFF), Civil Society Forum Tonga(CSFT), Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC), Tonga Law Society(TLS), Friendly Islands Human Rights & Democracy Movement(FIHRDM), Tonga Women National Congress(TWNC), Talitha Project and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC RRRT)” said Lepolo Taunisila, Country Focal Officer for SPC RRRT in Tonga.
With the ultimate goal of protecting families in Tonga, especially women and children, the key national players joined forces as partners in the campaign to draft, advocate for and enact the Bill. They also participated in radio talk back shows, national and community consultations and meetings with the Members of Parliament (MPs) to enhance their understanding of the bill.
Recalling the experiences leading up to the passing of the Bill, Mrs Taunisila said every possible strategies were exhausted to rally for the Bill.
“Key agencies took up leading roles in different aspects of the campaign. For example; the Tonga’s Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) took the leading role in lobbying and debriefing the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister responsible for the Bill throughout the three weeks of parliamentary debate” Mrs Taunisila said.
Mrs Taunisila added that the team even had meetings with the Minister on the weekend and together with the Solicitor General and WCCC participated in radio talk back shows to address public misconceptions and concerns about the Bill throughout the 3 weeks of parliamentary debate over the Bill. They also called up the Members of Parliament directly and sent text messages to provide them with facts about the Bill.
On 4 September 2013 after 3 weeks of debate on the Bill and after its third reading, all seventeen members present in Tonga’s Parliament voted in favour of the Family Protection Bill (2013).
“This is an historical moment in Tonga’s parliamentary history, the Bill has taken us three weeks to debate on and on behalf of the women, children and men of Tonga, I thank the Chair of the Whole Committee for his good guidance during those deliberations and the members of parliament for showing your support for this Bill” a happy Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. Lord Vaea said following the full majority vote in favour of the bill.
For the campaign partners, it was a moment of joy after 3 years of perseverance and great partnership.
“Colleagues and friends, I truly cannot hold my tears when the bill was passed in its final reading this morning 10.30am, 4 September 2013.What a moment, I'm lost with words to describe the feelings of happiness” an emotional Mrs Taunisila said moments after the Bill was passed by Tonga’s parliament.
“I must also acknowledge SPC RRRT's support through the UN Trust Fund Project: Changing Laws, Protecting Women, that was later funded by AusAID, Mere Pulea, SPC RRRT’s Consultant and all SPC RRRT staff for their collective efforts in equipping us with the lobbying skills and giving us the confidence to stay focused and go all the way despite the many challenges” Mrs Taunisila said.
In response, SPC RRRT’s Programme Manager, Mrs Sandra Bernklau said “All the congratulations belong to the Tonga’s Violence Against Women (VAW) taskforce, NGO and government partners on the ground. They kept the campaign and information up and really it is through their hard work and commitment that this project has been so successful”.
“Through support from SPC RRRT, Lepolo and her colleagues in Tonga were supported with training, provision of information and access to strategies including lobbying strategies. These discussions took place both at the national level and regionally through subregional Violence Against Women (VAW) consultations which proved to be really useful” Mrs Bernklau added.
Mrs Bernklau also confirmed that SPC RRRT’s support to Tonga’s Bill was under an extension of the original project that was funded under the UNTF EVAW, “Changing Laws, Protecting Women” that started back in 2008 and 2009 . Lepolo Taunisila, the Country Focal Officer in Tonga, and former SPC RRRT staff member Gina Houng Lee worked together during the initial UNTF project, until it was completed in 2012.
“The actual drafting work and the later stages of this project were picked up by AusAID funding and we are very grateful to them for that as it allowed us to continue the work without risk of it being “dropped” between projects. The continued work consisted of further support to legal drafting which was done by Daiana Buresova of our team and resident consultant to RRRT, Hon. Mere Pulea” Mrs Bernklau said.
The development of the Bill was an initiative of the Government of Tonga through the Ministry of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture Women’s Affairs Division, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team.
“We acknowledge the technical and financial support rendered under the MOU in 2010 between Government and the SPC that has culminated in this fruitful outcome for the protection of the family in Tonga, especially the women and children” a statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs said.
The Ministry is also grateful to Cabinet of Tonga for the overwhelming support for the bill.