Fifteen years ago Rosemary left her husband after suffering years of physical and psychological abuse.
She fled the family home, her seven children in tow, with hardly any money and absolutely no support.
All eight lived together in one tiny room in La Paz. As the sole provider for herself and her children, Rosemary worked two jobs from morning to night accepting whatever work she was offered.
“It was a very difficult time. My children used to get up and the youngest, who was only three at the time, used to say to me ‘Mum, I want bread,’” Rosemary told teleSUR English. “I looked at my daughter and I felt so sad and started to cry.”
Eventually Rosemary managed to earn enough money to move to a bigger apartment, but she credits the womens’ domestic abuse organisation ‘Gregoria Apaza’ – not the government – for helping her get through the most difficult years of her life.
The state of Bolivia is trying to make an effort to provide more support to victims like Rosemary. Two and a half years ago it introduced a tough new law that made violence against women a major crime.
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Law 348, as it is known, was intended to stop intimate-partner violence and punish abusers with harsher sentences. The law also made femicide, the violent and deliberate killing of a woman, a crime punishable by 30 years in prison.
But every day increasing numbers of women are dying at the hands of abusive husbands and partners.
According to Bolivia’s Ministry of Justice, every month another 10 women die in cases of femicide.
A survey of a dozen Latin American and Caribbean countries found that Bolivia had the highest rate of inter-partner violence against women.
Monica Novillo who campaigns on behalf of women says Law 348 is ineffective.
“The law is not being implemented properly,” she told teleSUR. ‘’We are demanding that the government assign a greater budget that’s needed to bring in more staff to help the victims of violence.’’
Fifty-two percent of Bolivian women have reported physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner in the home, but campaigners say the figures could be much higher as many are afraid to seek help.
Just this week a young Bolivian woman in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba was killed by her husband.
‘’He used a knife to attack her, apparently there was no reason,” said Novillo. “He argued that the woman wasn’t at home at the time she was supposed to be.”
It’s because of senseless cases like this that critics say Law 348 has failed.
But the government insists the law is working. In 2004, there were 200 female homicides recorded in Bolivia. ‘’This year we have 57 female deaths,’’ said Diego Jimenez, the vice minister of justice. ‘’That’s a reduction of more than 100 percent,’’ he claimed.
The reality, though, is the vast majority of domestic violence complaints never reach trial in Bolivia. Last year the courts processed just 6 percent of cases.
The government concedes this is a failure and is undertaking a review of the judicial system to ensure more convictions.
“There is a revolution taking place and we are working on a structural redesign of the entire criminal justice system and also the criminal prosecutions,” said Jimenez.
For women like Rosemary who have managed to break free from the cycle of violence in the family home, the struggle goes on.
“I’ll never forget those times and the fear I used to feel everyday,’’ said Rosemary. She’s wants the authorities to fully implement Law 348 as it was intended to be implemented when it was passed.
She has already suffered, but if the law were enforced, said Rosemary with an air of sadness, “It could save many womens’ lives.”