Sins of the father - domestic violence and children

2016-06-08 10:02


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Cape Town - Following the release of statistics on violence against children last week, child counsellor Zeenat Osman spoke to News24 about the impact domestic violence has on the young.

Osman works with children and teenagers at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. The non-governmental organisation seeks to empower survivors of domestic abuse with the skills to rebuild their lives.

"Some children will regress to earlier behaviours – where, like I said, they will thumb suck or bed wet," said Osman. 

"Other children might become violent themselves because they would mirror and act out the behaviour they would see at home."

Osman spoke to News24 in the room where she counsels children who witness domestic abuse – verbal, emotional and physical – in the home.

In it stood four small plastic chairs, a drawing table and shelves with books and games used in therapy. Her office walls are lined with colourful crayon drawings by the children she consults.

In some of Osman's cases children are direct victims of violence in the home, others are witnesses to conflict between parents or caregivers.

ABOVE: Zeenat Osman counsels children who have endured violence and domestic abuse (either directly or indirectly) in the home.

'This is a time bomb'

A woman we will call Amina* shared her experience of leaving an abusive marriage, in which she said her jealous, controlling, insecure husband threatened her, demeaned her and monitored her movements.

Following a particularly shocking incident in which her husband locked her in a room, pinned her down and throttled her, Amina says she realised the relationship was doomed.

"I don't know where I got the strength from and I pushed him off," she said. "And that was the first incident for me where I can recall where he really attacked me and threatened me, where my life was in danger. I thought to myself, this is a time bomb here."

Whereas her husband of almost 20 years was typically emotionally abusive, said Amina, with time the extent of the abuse escalated.

"What if he snaps or I wasn't that lucky to escape? And he changed for a while but he didn't improve, like I said. Just for that time he would play nice."

Recovery process

After years of hiding the extent of the abuse behind what she called a "pretty picture", Amina reached breaking point and left home for a month. Eventually, she found support at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. 

ABOVE: Amina, who spoke of her abusive marriage, said she wanted her story to encourage other survivors to break out of violent relationships.

Thanks to the centre and its programmes, Amina said she was gradually recovering her identity and processing the trauma of her abusive marriage. 

Before she left the relationship she had neglected herself and had not, for instance, styled her hair in more than a year, she said. Amina now looks forward to outings and having her hair styled. 

She also noticed positive changes in her son and daughter – although adjusting to spending time at the "shelter" instead of living in the comfort of home proved a challenge.

Cycles of violence

The Optimus Study on violence against children, particularly sexual violence and abuse, revealed some worrying trends in South Africa. Its findings contribute to the understanding of the risks South Africa's children face, and what contributes to the likelihood of abuse.

The study provides a data set based on surveys conducted in schools and homes around the country, with thousands of respondents. Importantly, the findings suggest stranger danger, while a threat to children's safety, is not the most commonplace source of violations against children. 

Often perpetrators target children they know and assault them in locations like parks or schools near the child's home.

"Childhood exposure to violence victimises children and plays a role in transmitting violence from one generation to the next," reads the foreword.

"Children who grow up in a violent household or community tend to internalise that behaviour as a way of resolving disputes, repeating the pattern of violence and abuse against their own spouses and children."

With this in mind, the work of people like Osman, the support of centres like the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children and the courage of survivors like Amina who made a change for herself and her family deserve our attention.

To report incidents of child neglect and abuse contact any Department of Social Development office or call their hotline on 0800 220 250. See the Childline website here or call 0800 055 555.

*Not her real name

Read more on:    cape town  |  child abuse  |  gender violence

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