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The scourge of domestic violence  

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In both rich and poor nations democracies and dictatorships, domestic violence is clearly making the headlines across the globe. In Nigeria, for instance, news media headlines include: Judge sentences man to death for killing wife, Husband pours acid on wife, 67 year-old man defiles eight year-old girl, Wife stabs husband to death, My husband uses me as punching bag, and many more.  This violence is not actually a new phenomenon as it has always been part of the fabric of many societies and cultures worldwide. For years, we have heard about such individual tragedies while diverse studies and surveys have been carried out in that direction. Yet nothing seems to be changing.  Rather, domestic violence is taking a completely monstrous dimension across the globe. 

Whilst women, men, boys and girls can be victims of domestic violence, women and girls are disproportionally affected. Common forms of violence in the home are perpetrated by males who are in positions of trust, intimacy and power over the female partner, like husbands, boyfriends, fathers, father-in-laws and mother-in-laws, step fathers and step mothers, uncles among others.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, nearly 2.5 million cases of sexual violence were reported globally in 2014, with many countries reporting more than 100 instances of rape or sexual assault per 100,000 people. Domestic violence is often defined in varied and broad terms depending on the country and calling of the person wanting to enforce the law. What constitutes domestic violence and degree of occurrence in Nigeria may vary from what it is in countries such as America, Britain, India or Saudi Arabia.  

Our social-cultural cum religious difference in Nigeria has also given room to diverse understanding of what constitutes domestic violence from one geo-political zone to another. For instance, in Lagos State, where we have Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Section 18 (1-xiv) of the Lagos State Protection against Domestic Violence Law has defined domestic violence as, acts against any person; physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation including but not limited to rape, incest and sexual assault, starvation, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, denial of basic education, intimidation, harassment stalking, hazardous attack including acid bath with offensive or poisonous substance, damage to property, entry into the complainants residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence, or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards a complainant where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harms to the safety, health or well being of the complainant. 

Basically, all forms of domestic violence have one purpose: to gain and maintain control over the victim. On the effect of domestic violence, children are often the most hit in terms of setbacks and the trauma they go through and which are most times irreparable. A child who is exposed to domestic violence during his/her upbringing will suffer in terms of developmental and psychological welfare. Depression and self esteem issues can follow due to traumatic experiences while problems of attitude and cognition in school can start developing, along with a lack of skills such as problem solving. 

Following recent cases of Akolade Arowolo who allegedly killed his banker wife, Titilayo, Sulaiman Olalekan who was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Chika Egbo and alleged domestic violence case between Nollywood actress, Mercy Aigbe and her husband, Lanre Gentry, it is time we began to see domestic violence as something even bigger as a vital issue of governance, and even as betrayal of true democratic norms.  

It is a bigger issue because family, religion, education and political institutions are culpable as pastors, imams, teachers, political leaders and other duty bearers are not left out of list of aggressors as far as domestic violence is concerned. That this set of people are not immune from committing the act makes the problem a more complicated one and tell us that were still a long way from finding an effective way to deal with the problem.  According to Amnesty International, a third of women in Nigeria are believed to have been subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence carried out primarily by husbands, partners and fathers.

This is terribly reprehensible. In the last one year, no fewer than 4,035 domestic violence cases have been reported in Lagos State.  One question remains unanswered; what is the reason behind the sky-rocketing increase of domestic violence in Nigeria? Is it that the long hands of the law is not catching up with the perpetrators of this dastardly act or the punishment doled out on these perpetrators is not thorough enough to keep others with such intentions at bay?

The reasons are not far-fetched. In Nigeria, the violence is still being accepted as a cultural phenomenon or as a way of life instead of being treated as a criminal matter. We have this tendency of seeing woman as a lesser or inferior human being. It is sad that many still encourage husbands to beat madness out of their wives. 

Domestic violence is not yet understood by many as a human right issue which touches on the right to liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement among other rights. In spite of existence of agencies like DSVRT, established to provide assistance to victims of the abuse in Lagos, many are still being persuaded to tolerate the abuse rather than report to appropriate authorities. Also, while the agency strives to ensure the abused get fair judgment from court, report conducted by the Lagos State Government showed that evidence for 88 per cent of cases recorded within Lagos were either destroyed by the abuser or misplaced by the victim. A report by the State Government in 2016, for instance, indicated that victims of the cases perpetrated within the period could not provide evidence that would assist the agency in court or in settling the case amicably between both spouses when the need arise.

The report further disclosed that of the 20 per cent domestic violence survivors, who had sought the assistance of government agencies to get redress, 18 per cent withdrew their cases from court while 85 per cent of victims blamed third party interference which includes mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law etc for igniting domestic violence.

On why they are still interested in the relationship, the graphics showed that 98 per cent of the abused wanted to remain in the relationship solely for the sake of their children. To conclude, it is imperative that we all realise that though women are the most directly affected by domestic violence, but it is society as a whole that bears the cost as the violence is a major obstacle to human development. It has a huge economic cost and aids the entrenchment of poverty.  
Musbau is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy.


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