Treated differently: Untold pain of female children from violent homes

It is no news that domestic violence against women leads to far-reaching physical and psychological consequences, some with fatal outcomes on victims and their children. ADETOLA BADEMOSI tells the story of its impact on the girl-child.

“Until his demise, I constantly wished my father would treat us with a little love and care,” Lilian Peter recounted with a sad smile. Miss Peter, a university graduate and last of four girls, shared the story of how her late father would discipline them, including their mother in the most inhumane way.

She was sitting on a stool with a bright smile that concealed the burden she bore within the last 30 years of her life. It was a pathetic story of a father-daughter relationship.

“He beat us naked! Beat up my mum and treated us with disdain. My case was worst, because I felt he wanted me to come as a boy. So, he treated me worst. My world was shattered one day when I asked if he hated me and he said yes! Ever since, I strove to make him see me differently,” she said.

Although she could not meet her father’s expectations before he died in 2019, she eventually graduated from the University of Ibadan, despite her family’s beliefs that she would amount to nothing.

Another survivor, Miss Iyanuoluwa Salami, 22, is an undergraduate from a family of six. She hails from the south-western part of Nigeria. Her father would beat up her mother for offences he was guilty of.

“We grew up to see our parents fight. My mother was the quiet one while my dad was short-tempered and aggressive; he would get angry over everything as little as asking for feeding money,” Salami reluctantly recounted, even as she paused mid-way into her speech.

“He would refuse to eat for days and my mum would still beg him to eat the food she strove to put on the table. He never apologised,” she angrily emphasised with her voice slightly raised.

For Blessing Emeka,16, the thought of marriage sends shivers down her spine due to her current experiences. Her predicament is such that they have to go hungry for days whenever the home is unsettled. She is barely in school and the trauma of a careless father, not meeting her basic needs, was overwhelming.

Lilian Peter

“My father would treat me with disdain and most times asked my mum to take me back to where she picked me from, just because he had a disagreement with my mother,” she hissed.  “He never said that about my brother except me.”

According to her, her father would get angry at her mum for being unable to secure a job and support him. As a result, she had concluded that there was no such thing as a picture of a perfect family. “He would accuse her of infidelity and whenever she goes to church with us, he would lock her outside while the neighbours beg him on our behalf,” she added

Modupeola Bello, 30, narrated her journey into adulthood, how she grew up having resentments towards her father and became rebellious. Despite being the one working hard to cater to the family because her father’s job was not consistent, her mother, she said, was mostly at the receiving end of verbal and physical assaults.

“During a fight, I saw my dad almost strangle my mum. It was scary,” Miss Bello  said while giving an imaginary demonstration with her hands. “Because of this, I strongly resented my father and became rebellious. When I left for tertiary institution, I almost never came home.”

Gender based violence (GBV) plays out in many homes and is fast becoming the new normal. While some live to tell the stories, others are not so lucky.

The United Nations Refugee Agency describes GBV as harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender and can include sexual, physical, mental and economic harm inflicted in public or in private.

Women and girls are mostly at the receiving end of these and more worrisome is how customs and tradition have continued to play a leading role in reinforcing gender inequality.

For instance, UNICEF in its report on gender-based violence in emergencies, states that in all societies, women and girls have less power than men – over their bodies, decisions and resources while also stressing that “Social norms that condone men’s use of violence as a form of discipline and control reinforce gender inequality and perpetuate gender-based violence.”

Also, Mehr Khan, director, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, noted that women and children are often in great danger in the place where they should be safest: within their families. “For many, ‘home’ is where they face a regime of terror and violence at the hands of somebody close to them – somebody they should be able to trust. Those victimised suffer physically and psychologically. They are unable to make their own decisions, voice their own opinions or protect themselves and their children for fear of further repercussions,” he said.

Over 1,000 GBV reported cases between March-April 2020

Report by the United Nations Nigeria shows that GBV cases soared during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It said between March and April in the six geopolitical zones across the country, a total of 1,095 cases recorded; 314 and 781 cases were reported in March and April of same year respectively.

A breakdown showed that the number of reported cases was highest in the South-West in March with 91 cases out of which 37 and 25 went to Lagos and Ekiti states respectively. In April, the total number of cases was tripled in South-West alone with 296 from which Lagos State topped with 185 cases within the period.

Aside, South-West, the geographical zone with the highest number of cases was North-Central with 156.  Benue State had the most number with 30 and 52 cases in March and April respectively.

According to the report, “the situation in Nigeria reflects the global trend of increased gender-based violence. GBV is reported to have significantly increased since the lockdown began in the three most affected areas (Lagos State, FCT and Ogun State) on 30 March 2020.

“The Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team reported a three-fold increase in the number of telephone calls received through their hotlines in one month. In particular, service providers have reported sharp increases in cases of intimate partner violence and domestic violence.”

This, however, does not speak to unreported cases of other forms of violence such as domestic, emotional abuses especially during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.

Mrs Rolake Roland is an introvert but a small scale business owner. She does the business to complement her husband’s support but the little help is never appreciated, she told Nigerian Tribune.

“I had no particular work except for some small scale clothes business. I spent all my capital and gains because my husband would pick up fights majorly that I don’t support him. Even with the little I support with, he still doesn’t see it,” she explained tearfully.

Effects of unsettled homes on children’s mental health

No doubt, children from unsettled homes grow up with different and wrong perceptions about family life which later mould their individual relationships.

According to UNICEF, children abused at home are more prone to replicate violent relationships as adults. It states that men and women who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to become involved in abusive relationships, and to use harsh parenting against their own children.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its factsheet on violence against children also affirmed that experiencing violence in childhood impacts lifelong health and wellbeing.

For Miss Peter, the constant instability in her family affected the relationship within her siblings. This is because there is hardly any form of care or sibling love shared amongst them. “This affected and still affects me because I started looking for love from the opposite sex that a particular day I was raped by a friend,” she stuttered, took a deep breath and added: “So many things have gone wrong in my trying to get that, but I still wish that I could get that love I never had especially from my dad while growing up.”

In the case of Miss Emeka, the constant fights had, at a point, affected her academic performances in school as she could not concentrate on her studies. “My friends often say I get carried away in thoughts. But they won’t understand why because I can’t tell them. I just wish that my parents are a bit understanding and love each other so that there won’t be fights,” she tearfully says.

FuturesWithoutViolence, in its study, affirmed that children and youth who live with domestic violence are affected by the experience but the impact this has on them is determined by the degree of violence.

Children mirror such violence in adulthood—Clinical pyschologist

In his reaction, Folajaiye Kareem, Founder/Lead Clinical Psychologist, Elite Life Management Consulting, who spoke to the Nigerian Tribune on the effect of domestic violence on children, explained that children who experience such are sure to mirror same pattern into adulthood. While others, whose personality does not align with such behaviour “you will find out that a lot of them come to experience other mental health conditions like anxiety disorder and depression.”

Similarly, he noted that victims who grow up in such environment tend to have relationship problems as they do not understand the dynamics of a proper relationship.

Folajaiye Kareem

Nigeria has several policies that could help check sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) but which are grossly ineffective. One of these is the Child’s Rights Act.

For instance, Section 10(1) of the Act states that: “A child shall not be subjected to any form of discrimination merely by reason of his belonging to a particular community or ethnic group or by reason of his place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion.”

Also, Section (11) a,b,c and d of the Act states that:”no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse;   subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;  subjected to attacks upon his honor or reputation; or  held in slavery or servitude, while in the care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”

But, an Act meant to protect the child right is not evenly applied, although Nigeria, being a member of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) had since 2003 adopted the principles of the  Convention as Child Rights Act (CRA).

Meanwhile, some states in the country have not domesticated the Act as required by law. Only 25 of 36 states have. Another of this is the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act. The Act defines “violence” to mean any act or attempted act, which causes or may cause any person physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, emotional or economic harm whether this occurs in private or public life, in peace time and in conflict situations.

It further defines:”violence in the private sphere” to mean any act or attempted act perpetrated by a member of the family, relative, neighbour or member of a community, which causes or may cause any person physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, emotional or economic harm;

In her reaction, the manager, Women’s Rights Programme, ActionAid Nigeria, Mrs Nkechi IlochiOmekedo-Kanny noted that emotional abuses have left victims broken but attention has always been on its counterparts -sexual, physical abuses.

She further stated that domestic violence was one that subjects children to diverse forms of behaviours such as aggression. “Most times we focus on sexual and physical violence and we forget the emotional aspect and when someone is broken and damaged you don’t get to see it physically and that is where the mental issue comes in.

“Such forms of abuses and others are a gross violation of human rights and should not be allowed to happen and in terms of impact. Children who witness such imbibe some forms of behaviour. For some, you find them talking about girls  seeking love out there and at the instance become promiscuous but there is a fundamental problem that has led to that.”

However, she said such could be curbed with the use of various legal instruments such as the Child’s Rights Act as well as the Maputo protocol.

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