Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Kone v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2010)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Harmful traditional practices, International law

The plaintiff, who was from Côte d'Ivoire, appealed a Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) decision affirming the denial of her asylum application, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Her asylum claim was based on female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and her fear that her daughters would be subjected to FGM if she was removed. An applicant who demonstrates past persecution benefits from the presumption that he or she faces future persecution unless the government rebuts that presumption by showing that there is either a change of circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened upon return to his or her native country, or a reasonable possibility of internal relocation within the country. Here, the BIA found that the plaintiff’s several voluntary return trips to her native country prior to her application for asylum rebutted that presumption and undermined her credibility. The Second Circuit disagreed, finding that a safe return on one occasion does not preclude potential future harm and that the regulation does not require an applicant to show that she would immediately be persecuted upon return. Similarly, the Second Circuit also found that an applicant’s return trips are not sufficient to undermine an applicant’s credibility. The Second Circuit accordingly vacated the BIA decision and remanded the case, noting that the agency may wish to consider the application for “humanitarian asylum.”

R.M., L.R. v. C.A., A.D. (Denuncia por violencia familiar) Camara Civil (Civil Court) (2014)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, International law

Child protective services appealed a decision of the court of first instance denying its request to extend to Ms. R.M.’s children an order of protection against her partner on the basis that (1) Ms. R.M. did not request that protection and (2) weaknesses were found in the determination by the Office of Domestic Violence regarding the degree of risk faced by the children.  In overturning the trial court’s ruling, the appellate court (1) found that applicable rules permit a judge to take measures that put an end to the crisis in order to enable the victim of domestic violence to return to a daily routine free from the influence of violence and (2) noted that the Office of Domestic Violence reported that the situation presented a high degree of risk, including in relation to the children.  In addition, the appellate court noted that in the cases brought before the judiciary, judges must ensure that the principals and rights set forth in the Treaty on the Rights of Children are observed.

Los servicios de protección infantil apelan una decisión del tribunal de primera instancia que denegó su solicitud de extender a los niños de la Sra. R.M. una orden de protección contra su pareja sobre la base de que (1) la Sra. R.M. no solicitó que se encontraran protección y (2) debilidades en la determinación de la Oficina de Violencia Doméstica con respecto al grado de riesgo que enfrentan los niños. Al anular el fallo del tribunal de primera instancia, el tribunal de apelación (1) encontró que las reglas aplicables permiten que un juez tome medidas para poner fin a la crisis a fin de permitir que la víctima de violencia doméstica regrese a una rutina diaria libre de la influencia de violencia y (2) notó que la Oficina de Violencia Doméstica informó que la situación presentaba un alto grado de riesgo, incluso en relación con los niños. Además, la corte de apelaciones señaló que en los casos presentados ante el poder judicial, los jueces deben garantizar que se respeten los principios y derechos establecidos en el Tratado sobre los Derechos del Niño.

2017 (Ju) No. 2015 Supreme Court of Japan (2018)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, International law

This case concerns the custody of a Japanese couple’s son who was born and raised in the United States until the mother, without the father’s consent, took him to Japan when he was 11 years old.  Pursuant to the Japanese implementation of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the father, whose life was still based in the U.S., petitioned for the return of the son to the U.S.  A family court in Tokyo granted the petition.  However, the attempt to enforce the order of the court failed as the mother strongly resisted when a court execution officer approached her––the son also voiced his desire to stay in Japan at the time.  Subsequently, the father requested habeas corpus relief seeking release of the child.  The High Court dismissed the request.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court of Japan reversed the High Court’s ruling and remanded the case.  In its reasoning, the Supreme Court first recalled its old ruling that care for a child is tantamount to “restraint” within the meaning of the Habeas Corpus Act and the Habeas Corpus Rules in special circumstances where it cannot be deemed that the child is staying with the care provider based on the child’s free will, even if the child is capable of making her/his own decisions.  The Supreme Court found such a special circumstance––undue emotional influence from his mother––existed with respect to the son in light of the fact that he was not capable of making decisions regarding his life when he was taken to Japan, he appeared to have had less than sufficient opportunities to communicate with his father, and he had been largely dependent on his mother.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that the restraint at issue was unequivocally unlawful, taking into account that the mother had refused to follow the family court’s order to return the child to the United States, and that there was no special circumstance in which removing the child would be significantly unjust.  This Supreme Court’s unanimous decision may be an indication that the Court will put significant weight on compliance with The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Nimely v. Paye, et al. Supreme Court of Liberia (2011)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment that appellant was guilty of rape. The complainant alleged that the appellant had sex with her when she was 13 years old and he was 18 years old. She alleged that the appellant invited her to his room, gagged her, and had sexual intercourse with her. Her brother’s wife forced open the door after the complainant failed to answer her phone call. The complainant's brother then called the police. The appellant admitted to police that he and the complainant had sex. The court found the appellant guilty of rape because the elements of Liberian statutory rape law are (1) sexual intercourse, (2) the perpetrator is at least 18 years of age, and (3) the victim is less than 18 years of age. However, the court reversed his conviction because the trial court relied on inaccurate information in determining the appellant’s age. The appellant testified that he was 17 years old at the time of the rape. Documents such as a passport or birth certificate were unavailable. The court held that in the absence of any rebuttal evidence by the prosecution, the court must accept that the appellant was 17 years old and therefore a juvenile when he had sex with the complainant. Under Liberian law, a juvenile cannot commit a crime, but is instead considered a juvenile delinquent. If a case involves a juvenile delinquent who is over 16 years of age and is accused of conduct that would constitute a felony carrying a sentence of life imprisonment or death if committed by an adult of at least 18 years of age, then the circuit court must consider the best interests of the Republic and the juvenile to determine whether to exercise its jurisdiction over the matter and preside over the case or choose to refer it to the juvenile court. However, the circuit court did not make this determination. Rather, it proceeded with the trial as though the the appellant was an adult and sentenced him to life imprisonment as an adult. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction and remanded him to the custody of his parents until the age of 21.

Masusu v. Masusu High Court of Botswana at Lobatse (2007)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The appellant-wife sought and was granted a divorce from her husband on the grounds of domestic violence and that he did not financially support her or their two children. The wife appeals a decision by the Customary Court of Appeal granting the house to the respondent-husband on the grounds that under customary law, a wife who divorces her husband is at fault because a wife is supposed to remain in her marital home regardless of her husband's actions. The High Court found that the Customary Court's reasoning discriminated against women because it automatically faulted the wife for filing a divorce no matter what her husband did and ordered the marital home be sold and the profits given to the appellant-wife.   


23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5301, Domestic Relations - Child Custody (2010)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

In making custody and visitation decisions, Pennsylvania courts look to various factors in determining what is in the “best interest of the child.” The factors weighed by the court include: (1) the well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment; (2) the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life; (3) which parent is more likely to foster a relationship between the noncustodial parent and the child; (4) each parent’s history of violent or abusive conduct; and (5) specific criminal convictions. The court will only award sole custody when it is in the best interest of the child. Shared custody will only be awarded if: (1) one or both parents apply for it; (2) the parents have agreed to shared custody; or (3) the court determines it is in the best interest of the child. It is within the court’s discretion to require the parents to attend counseling sessions. Further, the court may review and consider recommendations from the counselor in making the final custody decision.