Universally, childhood is recognised as a period of sensitivity requiring special care, attention and protection. Studies show that 3-4 million children between the ages of 3-17 are at the risk of exposure to domestic violence. Child abuse can be defined as any emotional, sexual or physical mistreatment, as well as neglect of a child.
Children who are exposed to battering become fearful and anxious. They are always on the guard, watching and waiting for the next event to occur. They never know what will trigger the abuse, and therefore, they never feel safe. They are always worried for themselves, their siblings and mothers.
Children who grow up with abusive fathers are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. Children from abusive homes can look fine to the outside world, but inside they are in terrible pain. Their families are chaotic and crazy. They may blame themselves for the abuse thinking if they had not done or said a particular thing, the abuse mostly done by the father would not have occurred. They may also become angry at their siblings or their mother for triggering the abuse. They may feel rage, embarrassment and humiliation.
Children of abusive fathers feel isolated and vulnerable. They are starved for attention, affection and approval. Because the mother is struggling to survive, she is often not present for her children. Because the father is so consumed with controlling everyone he is also not present for his children. These children become physically, emotionally, and psychologically abandoned.
The behavioral responses of children who witness domestic violence may include acting out, withdrawal or anxiously to please. The children may exhibit signs of anxiety and have a short attention span which may result in poor school performance and attendance. They experience developmental delays in speech, motor or cognitive skills. They may also use violence to express themselves, displaying increased aggression with peers or mother.
Whether or not children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. They tend to be denied the happy healthy homes others are experiencing. Those who grow up observing their mothers abused, especially by their fathers, grow up with a role model of intimate relationships in which one person uses intimidation and violence over the other person to get their way.
Because children have a natural tendency to identify with strength, they may ally themselves with the abuser and lose respect for their seemingly helpless mother. The father (abuser) on the other hand, typically plays into this by putting the mother down in front of children and telling them that their mother is “crazy” or “stupid” and that they do not have to listen to her. Seeing their mothers treated with enormous disrespect, teaches children that they can disrespect women the way their fathers do.
Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. They may replicate the violence they witnessed as children in their teen and adult relationships and parenting experiences. Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adult than boys raised in nonviolent homes. For girls, adolescence may result in the belief that threats and violence are the norm in relationships.
On a final note, parents are in a better position to influence a healthy behaviour on their children.
—Dibal wrote from the Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri.