Domestic violence: Children suffer in silence

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“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children,” these were the words of Mahatma Gandhi in the quest for peace, whatever form, in the world.

Mary Kashumba
Own Correspondent

Gandhi’s statement bears much relevance in today’s Zimbabwe and needs greater attention from family members, policymakers and the humanitarian community, considering the extent to which children are silent victims of domestic violence.

However, with much focus on women, children are affected and remain sidelined victims in the fight against gender-based violence just as these affected women are their mothers

Zimbabwe Council of Social Workers chairperson Phillip Bhowasi said it was sad that the increase in domestic violence cases readily translates into children suffering.

“The core causes of domestic violence are disputes that can be preventable. This is as a result of pressures that the caregivers are experiencing socially and economically.

“Sadly, when big animals fight, it’s the grass that suffers the most, and in as much as it affects women, there is an increase in cases of the forgotten victims of domestic violence, which are children,” he said.

Bhowasi said protecting children should be the absolute concern for everybody who is working to see an end to domestic violence.

“In our quest to curb the growing problem, teachers and social workers should be able to see the signs that the children will be displaying if they are experiencing domestic violence in the home,” he said.

Our major challenge in Zimbabwe currently is that there is a shortage of social workers.

“At the school of social work, we are training Para-social workers who are not qualified as social workers to fill the gap and encourage change in our society”.

Chipo Matara (14) (not her real name), a street kid in Harare’s central business district, explained how difficult it was when her mother was beaten in her presence.

“I used to live in fear when l would see my father pummel my mother and she would suffer bruises and even bleed from the nose and mouth,” she said.
“We ran away from him and I had to drop out of school as there was no one to cover the expenses. So I came here to look for money to help my mother who is not employed,” she said.

According to the Journal of Family Violence Report of 2010, domestic violence has lasting negative implications on children, making it imperative to ensure they are raised in a development-constructive environment.

“The experience of watching, hearing or otherwise being aware of domestic violence can impact children’s physical, emotional and social development, both during childhood and later in life,” the report read.

“Children who live with domestic violence not only endure the distress of being surrounded by violence, but are more likely to become victims of abuse themselves.

“Children who are exposed to domestic violence continue to face a range of possible effects including trouble with schoolwork, limited social skills, depression, anxiety and other psychological problems. They are at greater risk for substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and delinquent behaviour,” it further read.
The report also finds that these children continue the cycle of domestic violence, either as perpetrators or as victims and the abuse rates are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children who saw their mothers being abused.

Justice for Children’s Trust programmes director Caleb Mutandwa said the government should enforce the already existing laws to protect children.

“The government should focus on enforcing the good laws that have been enacted such as the Domestic Violence Act and recently the progressive Constitution which protects children from all forms of abuse including domestic violence in Section 81. Those who violate the law should be prosecuted and given stiff penalties when found guilty.

“Apart from prosecution, the government should provide other remedies to victims of domestic violence. For instance, children may not report their parents when they will not have anywhere else to go or anyone else to look after them if the parents are arrested and sent to jail.

“It’s the same thing we have been talking of in respect with women that when they are not empowered economically, they stay in abusive situations.”

Mutandwa urged government to craft a budget that’s sensitive to children’s needs for protection in cases of abuse.

“This requires government putting budgetary resources to children’s issues. For instance, there should be safe houses for children while their cases are being processed and in cases where either of their parents or both of them are jailed for abuse, they should be supported to continue living a life with dignity,” he said.

Zimbabwe Republic Police statistics show that there is an increase in cases of rape in Harare, with 664 women and girls having been raped in the last 10 months.

Of that figure, 334 were adults and the remainder being children and juveniles. Last year alone 3 102 cases of domestic violence were recorded and 824 women and children were raped in Harare.

It should be society’s part to play, to protect children and women, and not just remember days on the calendar and conventions on women’s rights on paper without implementation and practice.

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