Fiji: Girl beaten by village headman for wearing pants

Fiji: Girl beaten by village headman for wearing pants

Clothes gone wrong ... Asenaca Vunibola, right, with her father Tui and mother Sala after her traumatic experience at Naqai outside Labasa yesterday.

January 15, 2010

A 16-YEAR-OLD girl is in shock after she was punched and beaten with a stick by her village headman for wearing a singlet and three-quarter pants.

But police in the Northern Division yesterday backed the girl's right not be assaulted over the clothes she wore.

The incident happened at midday yesterday at Naqai Village, about four kilometres outside Labasa.

The police confirmed Asenaca Vunibola was leaving the village for town with her mother when the headman, Naisa Tagiwavoli, confronted her.

Children playing nearby confirmed witnessing Mr Tagiwavoli assault Ms Vunibola with a stick as she lay on the ground trying to ward off the blows.

Mr Tagiwavoli admitted to the Fiji Times he beat the girl, saying she had broken the village dress code for females and had "talked back" at him.

"I also did that to teach her a lesson because, as daughter of the turaga ni Yavusa of Naqai, who is my elder brother, she couldn't be breaking the law while other girls were abiding by it," Mr Tagiwavoli said.

"There are village laws that have been approved by the police and the provincial council and these must be respected."

But police spokesman Sergeant Suliano Tevita said the headman had no legal authority to beat up anyone to enforce village laws.

Ms Vunibola, who suffered bruises, said she was shocked when her uncle pounced on her as her mother Sala stood helplessly by.

"I can't believe I was beaten up over what I was wearing," she said. "He slapped me and punched me in the back before hitting me with a stick.

"Times have changed and they are trying to enforce the traditional way of dressing which is hard for the young generation to accept."

Ms Vunibola's father, Tui Vunibola, said he accepted there were village laws to be respected and followed but that did not mean assaulting people to enforce them.

"There are avenues that can be followed and what he did was just unacceptable," Mr Vunibola said.

Ms Vunibola was taken to Labasa Hospital for a medical examination and treatment.

Village elder Vilikesa Raitiqa said women were forbidden to wear pants, vests or sleeveless tops in public.

"And yet women break these laws, so they need to be enforced," he said."What they wear outside the village is their business."

The police are monitoring developments in the village as tensions flare over the issue.

Last week, Labasa police also looked into complaints that police officers were dictating to residents the kind of clothes to wear.

In response, Inspector Atu Sokomuri said the police had no role in deciding what people wore.