Everyone who knew Anil said he was a monster. He could not handle conflicts at home and often turned to yell to get his point across. He would control his children by being physically violent. His idea of showing love for his partner was through physical violence and ultimatum. Where did Anil learn to be the man he is? Perhaps from his childhood. Anil’s story is all too persistent in India.[i]
Domestic violence or intimate partner violence is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviours including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion used by adults or adolescents against their current or former intimate partner. Examples of physical abuse include beating with fist or objects, slapping, burning, threats to life, etc. Sexual abuse includes coerced sex through threats or intimidation through physical force etc. Psychological abuse involves harassment or stalking, constant humiliation, verbal aggression, etc.[ii]
Approximately, one in three women faces intimate partner violence according to the World Health Organization.[iii] Each consecutive government has tried to put in place legal and judicial recourses for these women but has left children unprotected and uncovered. Witnessing such widespread violence at home affects children seriously.
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL I MPACT ON CHILDREN
First, there are recorded physiological effects of trauma on the brain. Witnessing violence impacts a child’s brain. Stress produces cortisol, which unfavourably affects the functioning of the brain. Exposure to violence causes chronic stress, fear, and anxiety, which are toxic to the brain and impairs brain development[iv]. CT scan shows that children who have been exposed to trauma develop smaller corpus callosum and smaller hippocampus regions, which means that their learning, cognitive abilities, and emotional abilities are affected.
Apart from this, there is an increased risk of children becoming sufferers of abuse themselves. There is a standard link between violence and maltreatment. Children who observe family violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. Among victims of child abuse, 40% report domestic violence originates from home.[v] Children who experience domestic violence or are victims of abuse themselves are at serious risk of long term physical and mental health problems.[vi] In the long term children experience mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, poor concentration, poor self-esteem, diabetes, heart problems, obesity, etc.
Children at homes might feel fearful and anxious if one of the parents itself is ill-treated. They may also be on guard wondering when the next vicious event will happen. This can cause them to react in several ways which depend upon the age factor too:
· Children in Pre-school: Young children who watch imitate partner violence may start doing things they used to do when they were younger, such as bedwetting, increased crying, and thumb sucking. They may also develop difficulty in falling asleep, show indication of terror such as hiding. They may also learn unhealthy ways of expressing anger. Since parents are not able to consistently respond to the child’s need, a negative effect of the parent-child bond is observed.
· School-aged Children: Children at this age may feel guilty about the abuse and blame themselves for it. Domestic violence and abuse hurt a child’s self-esteem. They may have temper outbursts and problems with school and may also complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches.[vii]
· Teens: Children from families where frequent incidents of domestic violence occur have higher risks of alcohol, drug abuse, and juvenile criminality. Children and teens who have witnessed domestic violence may also feel powerless to stop the abuse between their parents and may denote other behaviours such as eating disorders or self-mutilation in order to gain energy back in their lives. They may also experience sleep problems including nightmares and emotional numbing.
Inter-generational transmission of violence is a disturbing consequence of violence in families. Through social learning processes such as observational learning, violence is used as a continuous response to conflict with imitating partners through channels of learned behaviour[viii]. Since the family is the main source of childhood learning, aggression modelled between parents not only provides scripts for violent behaviours but also teaches the appropriateness and effects of such behaviour in an imitate relationship to children through direct and indirect reinforcements of rewards and punishments (Albert Bandura, 1973, Social learning theory).
Getting back to Anil’s story, his history shows that he was a victim of violence and had been an observer of violence between his parents at home every day until he turned 20. He saw his mother being slapped and learned to create cover-up stories for the frequent injuries that appeared on his and his mother’s bodies as well as their soul. By the time he was five, he had learned that violence was an acceptable means to deal with disputes and that it was important for the man to dominate through power-assertive violence. To cope with the trauma at home, he had also learned to quickly repress his childhood fear and deep insecurity. How else could he deal with the difficulty of it? The trauma left physical effects on his brain, leading to poor emotional management.
It is important to note that not all victims of domestic violence become aggressors. We must not exploit young survivors of violence. Declaring that some of these victimised children will end up being violent themselves can, in fact, make it a self-fulfilling prediction. Yet, it’s crucial for a country that faces a huge crisis of violence against women to know that a history of abuse is usually a risk factor that points to a likelihood of performing inter-generational abuse.
3. LEGAL ASPECT-
The laws that deal directly with violence are:
· The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005- Only a woman who is/was in a domestic relationship with the aggressor can take action under this act. This Act gives the legal definition of domestic violence under Section 3 which includes four categories of abuse namely- physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, and economical. It is a civil law which focuses on the reliefs given to aggrieved women such as compensation, protection, right to residence in the “shared household” among others.[ix] This law not only protects married women but also protects women who are in live-in relationships, as well as mothers, grandmothers, etc.
· Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code[x]- This law is applied to husbands or relatives of a husband who are cruel to women. Cruelty refers to any conduct that drives a woman to suicide or causes grave injustice to her life or health- including mental health- and also includes harassment in the name of dowry. Even though marital rape is not recognised as a crime in India, forced sex with one’s wife can be considered as cruelty under this law. If convicted, people can be sent to jail for up to three years under this law.
The practice of dowry itself is outlawed under the Dowry Prohibition Act,1961. Despite this, if dowry has been given to and taken by anyone other than woman, she is entitled to that money/property as the case may be under this act.[xi]
· Mental Healthcare Act, 2017- India is turning serious towards mental health eventually after an increasing number of suicides because of depression and other related issues. Policymakers needs to associate the provision of professional mental health services to families recovering from domestic violence. According to this Act, mental health services should be established and made available in every district of the country[xii]. This would ensure that even children becoming victims of Domestic Violence can seek help. But for this to happen, we need more financial budget and more mental health practitioners, which our country lacks. It also needs authorized systems to train and track the quality of mental health trauma-care providers.
4. CONCLUSION AND THE WAY FORWARD- Parents can help their children by reaching out to professionals. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a kind of talk therapy or counselling that may work best for children who have experienced violence and abuse. Children witnessing domestic violence should feel safe. Parents might consider leaving their abusive relationships if it makes their child feel safe. Talking about healthy relationships with your child is a requisite. Let your child know that it is not his/her fault. Let your child know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable. Also, explain to your child that he or she doesn’t have the right to touch someone, and if someone tells them to stop, they should do so right away. There are many support groups for kids that can help children by letting them know that they are not alone and also help them in processing their thoughts and experiences in a non-judgemental way.
[i] Mathangi Swaminathan, The legacyof childhood trauma, The Hindu, March 4,2020, 13:10, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma/article30974938.ece. [ii] Behind closed doors-the impact of domestic violence on children, Jun 10, 2020, https://www.unicef.org/media/files/BehindClosedDoors.pdf. [iii] Violence Against women, 29 Nov,2017, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women. [iv] Robyn Chitttister, How Exposure to Domestic Violence Affects Brain Development in children, Oct 17, 2016, https://adoption.com/how-exposure-to-domestic-violence-affects-brain-development-in-children. [v] 10 World Health Organization, ‘World Report on Violence and Health’, ed. By Krug, Etienne G., et al., Geneva, 2002. [vi] Effects of domestic violence on children, June 10, 2020, https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/domestic-violence/effects-domestic-violence-children. [vii] The impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, Jun 9, 2020, https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/impact-on-children-and-young-people. [viii] David S Black, Steve Suman & Jennifer B Unger, A Further Look at the Intergenerational Transmission of Violence: Witnessing Interparental Violence in Emerging Adulthood, (Albert Bandura, 1973, Social learning theory) , Jun 25,2010, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19801446/. [ix] Aanchal Singh, what is Domestic Violence? An introduction to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Dec 13,2018, https://theleaflet.in/know-your-rights-domestic-violence-an-introduction-women-2005-act-aanchal-singh/. [x] Sanyukta Dharmadhikari, Watch: These are the laws in India against domestic violence, The News Minute, Feb 28,2019,21:43, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/watch-these-are-laws-india-against-domestic-violence-97543. [xi] IDAV, Domestic Violence and connected laws Indian women should know of, April 24,2020, https://www.shethepeople.tv/law-and-her/domestic-violence-and-connected-laws-indian-women-should-know-of/. [xii] Abhishek Mishra & Abhiruchi Galhotra, Mental Healthcare Act 2017: Need to Wait and Watch, Jun 8, 2017, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324627335_Mental_Healthcare_Act_2017_Need_to_Wait_and_Watch.
-By Skandita Sharma