By Ruci Farrell - email@example.com
Survivors of domestic violence in Tonga are now entitled to free legal protection following the opening of the Family Protection Legal Aid Centre in Nuku'alofa.
The centre is seen as a ground-breaking initiative to address the increasing rates of family violence in the Pacific and is a pilot project funded by the Tongan Government and the Pacific Community (formerly known as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community).
Tonga Ministry of Justice's assistant secretary, 'Aunofo 'Aholelei, says the centre offers family violence victims legal options to ensure they are safe and protected under the law.
"It allows Tonga to fully achieve the objectives of the Family Protection Act in having a centre that provides free legal advice and representation for survivors which they are entitled to under the law," she says.
In 2016, 442 domestic violence cases were dealt with in court and in 2017, those figures jumped up to 619.
Ms. 'Aholelei says it means victims are gaining confidence to speak out for help.
"The increase in the numbers indicate that people are becoming more aware of their rights under the law and that they're becoming more confident in approaching the court for legal remedy."
Tonga is the first Pacific nation to establish a Family Protection Legal Aid Centre.
Listen to full Radio 531pi interview with Tonga Ministry of Justice's Assistant Secretary