Cii News | 05 Safar 1436/28 November 2014

Teachers, educators, the first people to witness the change taking place in an abused child or a child witnessing abuse in the home could deepen the problem by the way they react to that change.

Cii Radio spoke to Doctor Zubeida Dangor, director of the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development, a South African-based NGO, 20 years in practice this year. The worldwide campaign, 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, aimed at raising awareness against violence and abuse of women and children began on November 25.

Dangor said the institute would continue with their awareness campaigns and offering services necessary to “the survivors of violence against women”. This, she said is very important because even during the 16 days of no violence against women, a lot of women are abused, murdered and raped.

“What we find is that sometimes the nature of the 16 days becomes too celebratory whereas in fact what we really need to do is we need to match our services and our awareness together with each other so that people can get the help they need. I think that is absolutely critical.”

The impact of domestic violence against children, not only directly abused but children who witness it and are the bait used by one partner to get to another needs additional focus. Children indirectly abused by witnessing violence in the home are hugely impacted.

“Many children grow up with the idea that this is what is normal in a home, that fathers need to abuse their mothers, that they need to derogate their mothers and that putting women down is an acceptable thing in our society. These are the examples given to children on the one hand. On the other hand you will find that some children who are doing well academically will start showing emotional problems at school and their academic work reduces and they don’t perform as they usually do or did in the past.”

It’s very important for children to be able to access counselling, to help them understand what it abuse is because many children blame themselves for the abuse that takes place in the home.

“They also become terrified. They are afraid to talk. They are not sure what to do under such circumstances. The children are definitely affected. What is critical is the fact that you need to have properly trained social workers who have the skills in dealing with children and I think that we are remiss on this in many instances… Children’s work is specialised and you really do need to be able to have people who know what they are doing when working with children.”

Teachers must be very empathetic towards children such that the minute they notice something odd in a child’s behaviour that may not have been there in the past they are able to ask why. Teachers are generally afraid to call parents in and ask these very hard hitting questions even though it’s so important for the future of these children explains Dangor.

When teachers are sufficiently trained these situations can be handled in an extremely confidential manner so that the child does not suffer any unnecessary stigmas or additional peer “abuse”.

“Sometimes people undermine the issue of counselling which is really there to pick up the issues and help the parent and the child along. What happens is that the parents, in the process of the abuse, they forget about the child and the child is almost an onlooker and they’re so involved in the abuse that’s going on that they forget what the children are witnessing.”

A situation of abuse has to be very extreme to remove the child from the situation. It’s always best to dry to deal with the parents because when the child is not directly abused it’s not the problem of the child. The problem is located with the parents and removing the child might be labelling them as the problem.

The reaction of boys and girls to abuse is not necessarily different although it might affect their choices and behaviour in adulthood.

“What we do see in children is fear, anxiety, children might resort to bed wetting. Younger children who have just been toilet trained might regress to bed wetting again. Behavioural changes, aggression, anger to one of the parents, dropping of school grades, withdrawal. When parents start fighting the child will go under a table and hide because they are so afraid so fear is a very big thing… The trauma for the child is very real.”

Dangor stressed the importance of proper counselling and the responsibility of the parents and family in getting this support to children. It is important to remember that abuse is any form of behaviour which causes fear, bodily harm and a person to do things against their will.