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Domestic violence destroying children, families and communities

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Added 28th May 2020 09:43 AM

Unfortunately, for some people, the lockdown turned out to be confinement at home, where they were trapped with abusive partners, parents and guardians or even employers in the case of domestic helps

Domestic violence destroying children, families and communities

Mary Karooro Okurut

Unfortunately, for some people, the lockdown turned out to be confinement at home, where they were trapped with abusive partners, parents and guardians or even employers in the case of domestic helps

By Mary Karooro Okurut
 
In the past weeks, a very disturbing video of a 14-year-old girl went viral. Interviewed on camera, the pregnant child made stunning accusations. She alleged that the mother was hiring her out to men for groceries. It was painful to watch.
 
Subsequently, the Police arrested the 36-year-old mother and a 41-year-old man and charged them with aggravated trafficking in children. Court remanded them. The other man had earlier been arrested when the girl fled her mother's home to her father who supported her to report to the Police.
 
This is a bizarre case of how domestic violence is manifesting in this COVID-19 lockdown. Ordinarily, a mother would not be party to sexual violence against her child. Social media had another clip of a man in Jinja district who after fighting with his wife, allegedly defecated in the bag of maize flour; their food, in order to
chase her away!
 
The President, the Police, media, human rights defenders and community leaders have all confirmed domestic violence rising 33% in the lockdown, not only in Uganda, but globally. President Yoweri Museveni decried this development on May 4. The Police reported on May 14, that they had received over 328 cases of domestic violence and 102 of child abuse and neglect within two weeks.
 
The requirement to stay home was part of the measures governments, including Uganda's, have implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately for Uganda, the measures are promising. By God's grace, Uganda has not registered any COVID-19 deaths and even though the number of those infected keeps rising, it is still among the smallest globally.
 
Unfortunately, for some people, the lockdown turned out to be confinement at home, where they were trapped with abusive partners, parents and guardians or even employers in the case of domestic helps. What irony that people were required to stay home to escape the COVID-19 pandemic, but out of the home sprung the monster of domestic violence. Clearly, the safe haven that a home should ideally provide to the people that live there is crumbling due to the unprecedented effects of the lockdown.
 
The recent surge in domestic violence needs effective and expeditious interventions so that it does not blot Uganda's progress in controlling the spread of COVID-19. Domestic violence broadly refers to all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or
economic violence that may be committed by a family member or intimate partner, married or cohabiting. Sometimes it is an estranged couple or even an ex. Given the nature of our extended families, the violence may be against the children or parents or other members that live there.
 
Physical violence is easier to spot since it involves battery, assault, rape, defilement, physical torture which often leave injuries or scars. However, psychological abuse is subtle and can easily remain undetected. It is difficult to suspect and prove without expert opinions. Statistics have also shown that victims of domestic violence are disproportionately women and
children. 
 
The male victims often find social constraints in reporting spousal violence against them. Therefore, we need to pay due attention to the red flag on rising domestic violence because it can easily discount the progress registered so far in the COVID-19 fight.
 
Understandably, much of the attention is now on issues directly related to the virus, so it is easy for domestic violence to escape the eye of other members in the home, communities and
authorities.
 
Since victims are cut off or isolated from their usual safety net or support systems, this can easily aggravate the situation. A battered victim can remain unnoticed since it is now possible to remain inside one's home for weeks without raising an eyebrow.
 
There are no workmates or customers who might notice something odd; people are not visiting one another so there is no external eye to see what is amiss. The victim cannot easily access psychosocial support from confidants, traditional social structures like the paternal aunt in the case of some Ugandan cultures or support groups like Mothers Union or spiritual counselling.
 
Yet, domestic violence has devastating effects on victims, children, families and communities, including death, illness, injury, disability, fear, mental breakdowns, depression, shame, anger or even suicide. Some may flee home or resort to alcohol and substance abuse to deal with the trauma.
 
Families can experience misery and disintegrate even spilling over into more conflicts as in-laws get sucked in; not forgetting the physical and emotional harm to children and young people who may be psychologically scarred permanently, becoming problematic adults.
 
Concerted efforts are needed to nip this menace in the bud. Heed the President's wise counsel to couples to learn to live together and dialogue when they disagree instead of fighting. It is important, today more than ever before, that our decisive action against COVID-19 pandemic also focuses on the consequent domestic violence. We would not want it as the lingering pain in a post-COVID-19 Uganda.
 
The writer is the
Minister for General Duties in the Office
of the Prime Minister

 

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