Femicide is to be introduced as a concept in the criminal code, Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced.

He said Cabinet had agreed to the change as part of amendments to "strengthen our fight against gender-based violence".

The decision comes almost a month on from the brutal rape and murder of Polish student Paulina Dembska, which sparked a wave of calls for legislation to protect women. 

In a Facebook post, the prime minister said more details would be given in the coming days but the government looked forward to the parliamentary process to be embarked upon as soon as possible.

Just last month, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis ruled out making femicide a crime or an aggravating offence to homicide saying that murder, irrespective of gender, already carries the maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The minister had been responding to a University of Malta and Women's Rights Foundation report that recommended femicide should be made a criminal offence or an aggravating offence of homicide.

The report was released 48 hours after the murder of the 29-year-old woman,  who was raped and strangled at Sliema’s Independence Garden early on January 2.

Gender-based violence includes psychological and physical violence, stalking, rape and other sexual violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking.

At the moment Maltese law does not mention the word "femicide"  - defined as murdering a woman, because she is a woman.

While certain crimes carry a harsher punishment if they are deemed gender-based, this does not apply to murder. However murder carries the harshest punishment possible.

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