Domestic Violence and its impact on children

  • Smt. Pragna Parande
  • Member
  • National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)

Domestic violence though is considered as a private issue between couples, in recent years domestic violence has been recognised as a societal issue. Over the past decade, it has been recognised that the impact of domestic violence exceeds the private relationship between partners and negatively impacts the life of the children living in the home environment. Children become silent victims of the abuse and find little support through agencies and services. Domestic violence is generally understood as 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 partners. Therefore, the abuse or violence can be mental, physical, sexual, emotional and economic in nature.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented disaster and rightly considered as the biggest global health care and economic catastrophe in 100 years. Measures to contain the transmission of the virus include social distancing and imposing lockdowns. During the first lockdown, the number of cases for domestic violence rose according to the National Commission of Women (NCW). Between March 25 and May 31, 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women more than those recorded in the previous 10 years during the same period. The lockdowns have forced many of the victims to become trapped with their abusers. The victims are unable to access help or physically remove themselves from their situations. Both the victims and children are subjected to abusive behaviour significantly affecting their mental health and well-being.

Witnessing domestic violence gravely impacts the social, physical and mental development of children. The children become fearful and are always on guard, expecting a violent event. This anxiousness can cause different reactions from children depending on their age. Young children may revert to habits from their young such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, increased crying, and sleepless nights. They may also start to stutter or hide and show sever signs of separation anxiety. Children in school may feel guilty and suffer from low self-esteem which may manifest as lack of desire to participate in social events or make friends. Children in their teens may act aggressive, display risk taking behaviour and have difficulty concentrating.

Children witnessing domestic violence are at greater risk of entering into abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves. They may be at higher risk of health problems as adults such as obesity, alcohol or substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease. They may suffer from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. Such incidents may impact their personality development. Further, exposure to domestic violence has been linked to poor school performance due to inability to concentrate and low development of verbal, motor and social skills. In addition to these physical, behavioural, psychological, and cognitive effects, children may learn to normalise the use of violence as means to exert power or resolve conflict thereby, negatively affecting their response to social situations and relationships. Children maturing into adulthood may also face significant economic costs in the form of lost employment productivity, increased health care sending.

Post COVID-19, the pandemic will have a drastic effect on the economic stability of the country. Studies have linked domestic violence to financial stress, mental stress, fear, and of course, systemic patriarchy. The sense of isolation and financial and medical anxiety shall further compound the instances of domestic violence.There is need for increased awareness campaigns on domestic violence and its impact on children within the communities and schools while enabling perspective change of identifying domestic violence as community issue rather than a private issue. Assistance of local administration should be taken to report cases. Further, child-rights based approach should be adopted when handling the cases involving children. Appropriate mental health counselling should be made available for the children to address their psychosocial concerns.

Rising cases of gender-based violence including domestic violence is concerning, especially in light of the impact that such incidents can have on the development of the child. It is pertinent that effective multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral efforts be initiated to address this issue. Children are one of the most vulnerable members of society. Their naivety and vulnerability create a special obligation on the parents, society and the state to undertake protective interventions. Securing the rights and ensuring the healthy development of children is vital to ensuring a sustainable and conscious society.