Child abuse has been an age-long topic which has drawn attention and interventions from different stakeholders, locally and globally. The issue of child abuse has been encapsulated within physical, psychological and sexual domains of child relationships including the neglect of children. All forms of child abuse have been ascribed as crimes against children and ultimately, humanity. However, as clear-cut as child abuse descriptions may be, its intricacies sometimes require inferences to establish occurrences of the crime. A case in point is domestic violence.
Domestic violence refers to violent incidents that often happen within the confines of a home or domestic arrangements and it is often accounted to occur between intimate people. It has been reported to be perpetrated more by men against women. The World Health Organisation estimates that at least a third of women aged 15 – 49 years have experienced domestic violence, globally. This has made the classification of domestic violence to sometimes fit into the description of gender-based violence, especially when women are predominantly victims albeit; male victims of domestic violence have now been on the rise.
Domestic violence is the underlying cause of spousal abuse and is usually physical, psychological or sexual in nature. Other forms of this violence identified are financial, religious or cultural in nature. Typical behaviours that portray domestic violence include threats and aggression with the objective of inflicting pain, suffering and economic losses. These behaviours are characterized by shoving, slapping, punching, kicking, strangling, intimidating, humiliating, cursing, exempting, defaming, raping, stalking, destroying properties, monitoring of movements, isolating from friends and family members and restricting of access to needed things such as freedom, information or money, among others.
Domestic violence can be recognized by its pattern of repetitive violent behaviour(s), targeted at a spouse or intimate partner within a relationship. Its aftermath can lead to series of reactions and decisions which victimizes third parties especially, the children involved. This can become quite worrisome if it exacerbates their existing vulnerabilities. According to a 2019 research titled “Child-to-Parent Violence and Parent-to-Child Violence”, victimization of children in domestic violent situations may be vicarious or direct. Vicarious victimization is the indirect victimization of children, as the children are not intentionally targeted. It usually occurs when children get to witness or hear domestic violent acts. Direct victimization on its part, involves intentionally targeting and maltreating the children of the abused spouse.
Many victims of domestic violence have often watched in horror as the consequences of their toxic relationships spill on their children. According to UNICEF, over 275 million children witness domestic violence, globally. The impact of witnessing domestic violence on children is many times downplayed or misunderstood. Research reveals hurting a child’s parent, who is an active care-giver, with whom the child lives and has an emotional connection with; in the presence of or to the hearing of the child, will more than always lead to the psychological abuse of the child. In other situations, abusive partners go further to threaten the wellbeing of children of their partners, to the hearing of the children in question. This can worsen these children’s psychological abuse. It is truly unfortunate that children have to hear that their welfare and safety are in jeopardy as a result of one of their parents, who they have come to know or accept as a care-giver.
Domestic violence equally endangers children physically. When a spouse or an intimate partner become physically violent towards the other spouse or partner and the physical violence occurs within domains that these parents share with their children, children can seriously get hurt. We have seen instances where children have had to step up to separate their fighting parents or take sides with their favorite parent during physical altercations by attacking the other parent or are manipulated by the abusive parent to perpetrate physical violence against the other parent. Scenarios like these expose children to the risk of injuries or death.
In a 2011 research titled “Child abuse in 28 developing and transitional countries”, it was revealed that among African children, 83.2% suffered psychological abuse, 64% suffered moderate physical abuse with 43% having suffered severe physical abuse. The type and severity of child abuse resulting from domestic violence is dependent on factors such as the child’s proximity to the violence, the age, the kind(s) and combination of violence perpetrated and the frequency of the violent occurrence. Domestic violence can affect children in both short and long-terms.
The short-term effects which can be noticed almost immediately include bodily injuries or scars; perpetual anxiety; low self-esteem; anti-social behaviour; fear; bad-temperedness; poor concentration at and a high tendency of skipping school; high probability of experimenting with drugs, alcohol or sex, self-harm; poor sleep patterns and nightmares alongside children’s ability and willingness to act out the violence they have experienced, usually around other children. Long-term effects of domestic violence on children as they transition into adulthood include mental illness such as depression; terminal diseases such as high blood pressure; suicidal tendencies; likelihood to repeat the abuse or increased vulnerability to domestic violence in future intimate relationships.
While research posits that decisions regarding abusive relationships can lead to their continuation or termination, the decisions seem to be less influenced by concern for the children involved in the relationship but more on factors such as commitment to the relationship; commitment to cultural values on relationships; health status; quality of healthcare providers/legislators/law enforcement; gender, social or economic status; educational opportunities; employment opportunities; family support; social support and material or financial resources. The possibility of children’s welfare within domestic violent situations not being prioritized enough especially, by their parents, has made it necessary to make provisions for needed interventions for such children. Interventions that are therapeutic, financial and legal in nature should be considered. The interventions in addition, should be given relevant government backing to expedite them despite personal or environmental constraints.
Nevertheless, more still need to be done to reduce domestic violent occurrences in the society. Awareness campaigns should be leveraged with far-reaching efforts concentrated on rural communities. Even though media awareness remains a choice option, spirited engagement of the political, cultural and religious leadership should be promoted in this regard. Active third-party reporting of crimes of domestic violence and/or child abuse should also be encouraged and rewarded.
Shield of Innocence Initiative,
Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.