Friday, January 29, 2010

Domestic Violence - Think about children (Harare, Zimbabwe)

Nice piece out of Zimbabwe on the effects that domestic violence have on children.

Zimbabwe: Domestic Violence - Think About Children
Tichaona Zindoga
29 January 2010


Harare — IN the stealth of the night, a voice of a woman, Amai Taku (not her real name) pierces through the darkness as she screams amid a barrage of blows from her irate husband.

And as the screams subside to an eerie, bone-chilling and incessant wailing, the tiny voice of Taku -- apparently as disconsolate -- could be heard mingling with his mother's.

The cries of mother and child make a most mournful chorus but the husband is unfazed.

It has happened again: Amai Taku's husband has beaten her once more, waking the four-year-old boy from his slumber, obviously without the faintest idea of what has caused the fight.

But he can sense that something is wrong and memories of his father beating the lights out of his mother day in day out, are probably set to stay with him forever.

It is a familiar tale with those children, from toddlers to teens, who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence.

Zimbabwe has legislated against the practice via the Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16).

Domestic violence refers to "any unlawful act or behaviour or omission that results in the death, injury (physical, sexual or mental)" between a husband and wife.

Unfortunately, it is a worldwide phenomenon with many casualties, especially among women.

But domestic violence has tended to impact negatively on the lives of young people.

Mr Caleb Mutandwa, programmes director with Justice for Children Trust, says domestic violence affects young people in a profound way.

He says apart from suffering abuse themselves, physically or financially (financial deprivation by a spouse is covered in the Act), children in abusive homes have to live with a number of negative realities.

"Domestic violence may give the wrong impression that fighting is the only way to solve problems," he said.

"For the most part, the children internalise the violence at home and become violent outside and later in life," he added.

Mr Mutandwa said children in abusive homes were especially susceptible to violence themselves as they might think that it is normal.

At school, children's performance suffers a lot as their minds continue to drift to the unpleasant situation at home.

On the main, children in abusive homes tend to "grow" faster than normal as they try to cope with the situation at home.

Domestic violence has been known to drive young people onto the streets.

"The home becomes a source of discomfort and hate rather than of love and comfort," Mr Mutandwa inferred.

An American journal, Women's Rural Advocacy Program, also illustrates the unfortunate extent of domestic violence to a whole range of young people.

"Infants may be injured if being held by the mother when the batterer strikes out (and) older children may be hurt while trying to protect their mother," it says.

It adds that children in homes where domestic violence occurs may experience cognitive or language problems, developmental delay, stress-related physical ailments (such as headaches, ulcers, and rashes), and hearing and speech problems.

It also corroborates the findings expressed by Justice for Children Trust that many children in homes where domestic violence occurs have difficulties in school, including problems with concentration, poor academic performance, difficulty with peer interactions, and more absences from school.

Boys who witness domestic violence are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in non-violent homes.

"There is no evidence, however, that girls who witness their mothers' abuse have a higher risk of being battered as adults," WRAP notes.

Children also tend to take responsibility for the abuse and are in constant anxiety (that another beating will occur) and stress-related disorders.

Children in these unfortunate circumstances often feel guilty for not being able to stop the abuse or for loving the abuser.

Some of the problems encountered by children in abusive homes, WRAP states, include fear of abandonment, social isolation and difficulty interacting with peers and adults, and having low self-esteem.

Children in unhappy situations may become withdrawn, non-verbal, and exhibit regressed behaviour such as clinging and whining while they also suffer eating and sleeping difficulties, concentration problems, generalised anxiety, and physical complaints (such as headaches) are all common.

For older children, domestic violence has a way of pushing them to exhibit violent or rebellious behaviour.

This is because unlike younger children, the pre-adolescent child typically has greater ability to externalise negative emotions.

They may show a loss of interest in social activities, low self-concept, withdrawal or avoidance of peer relations, rebelliousness and oppositional-defiant behaviour in the school setting.

Temper tantrums, irritability, frequent fighting at school or between siblings, lashing out at objects, abusing pets, threatening peers or siblings with violence, and attempts to gain attention through hitting, kicking, or choking peers and/or family members, experts say.

Adolescents, it has been observed, are at risk of academic failure, dropping out of school, delinquency, and substance abuse.

"Some investigators have suggested that a history of family violence or abuse is the most significant difference between delinquent and non delinquent youth," one website, says.

Citing some studies, it estimates that one-fifth to one-third of all teenagers who are involved in dating relationships are regularly abusing or being abused by their partners verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and/or physically. Between 30 percent and 50 percent of dating relationships can show the same cycle of escalating violence as marital relationships.

But there is a glimmer of hope locally and abroad with efforts to combat the scourge of domestic violence.

In Zimbabwe, the Domestic Violence Act has strengthened existing legislation to cushion women and children, although interest groups have complained that people are still to claim the full benefits of such.

The Act provides for the arrest of a perpetrator of domestic violence by a police officer without a warrant, in the interest of the victim's safety, health or well being.

In cases of domestic violence, a complainant or anyone acting in his or her interest with or without his or her consent or anyone having care or custody of a minor child who is a victim may apply for a "Protection Order".

The Order, granted by the Courts, protects the victim from any form violence from the perpetrator.

It instructs the perpetrator to stay away from the complainant and pay monetary relief to complainant and any child dependent. The protection order awards custody of any child or dependent to any person or institution and set out access rights of such a child.

A child is entitled to use the respondent's premises or property in case of the order being evoked.

Before the courts can grant the order, the victim can secure an Interim Protection Order in which the perpetrator is not given a chance to respond to the application.

This is done when there is compelling evidence that the complainant needs protection.

The perpetrator has to convince the Court why, if he or she does, a protection order cannot be issued, before the date shown on the temporary order.

If the perpetrator fails to abide by the order, they may be arrested for the offence.

The protection order could be varied, though, and in the case of a minor the representative must show that it is in the child's best interests.

The Domestic Violence Act also dovetails with other legislation on areas such as the maintenance law.

On top of judicial recourse to help children affected by domestic violence, there are other measures that could be employed to help children affected by domestic violence.

School authorities could play a pivotal role in assisting the child in need of support so do local child protection agencies or counsellors.