An average Nigerian would attest to the fact that the surge in the reports of domestic violence has left many mouths open. An increase projected by Oyediran et al., in an African journal when the reports rose from 21% to 30% in 2013. While it is true that this was not the norm in times past, many would agree that domestic violence has been a ravaging demon silently hurting families from ancient times. The blame could be placed on the patriarchy system passed down generations were women were seen as properties to be acquired, sex slaves to be used, baby factories for procreation and house keepers. Men knew only one way to correct and relate to what they owned be it cattle or women which was an act of force resulting in violence. That was the beginning of the present problem. Although domestic violence occurs to both gender, in Nigeria, domestic violence happens mostly to women.
Various meanings have been given to this root cause of injuries and even deaths in homes which all refers to domestic violence as the abuse of a spouse by his or her partner. This is not only the physical abuse (beating, acid baths etc) as domestic violence can also be sexual (rape), emotional or mental (verbal abusive words).
Report and prosecution has not been able to curtail this surge because the factors leading to domestic violence have not been addressed. These factors include:
- Domestic violence as a norm
A documentary taken from a part of Nigeria (Tiv) showed some home trainings given to young girls invariably result to acceptance of such cruel act. These young girls, likely forced into child marriage due to culture, were told to endure beating and hateful words from their husbands as part of the affection shown to them. Some girls became worried when their husbands did not slap them for a long time, wondering if the husbands had begun having mistresses. To not be beaten once in a while was a sign the women did not yet know the joy of marriage. Such women see nothing wrong in domestic violence, would likely teach their children also and increasing women’s acceptance of this cruel act. An average Nigerian who probably grew up in an environment where domestic violence occurred in every home and no one said anything, grows up to see domestic violence as a norm and its report, a strange act.
As much as many root for justice when a report is filed for domestic violence, many Nigerians soon wag tongues at the victim for various reasons best known to them. Some would feel the victim likely pushed too hard (too stubborn) causing the predator to react in anger, others simply blame the victim for not retaliating in self defence and coming to report and yet others would simply stay clear off the victim cause loneliness. Most victims cannot stand such and would go back to their spouse after a while. In such cases, the stigma of domestic violence remains on the victim even more than the predator. Victims therefore prefer to endure rather than to be thrown at the mercy of the public.
Also a filed domestic violence case taken to the law court takes a lot of time and resources before a verdict is made. Verdict may lead to divorce which is frown at in every culture in Nigeria. The public soon forgets the cause of divorce and act unjustly to the victim. Religions in Nigeria also encourage victims to work out their marriages despite all odds as divorce is also frowned at. Stigmatization makes many endure even to the point of death.
- Economic dependency
The percentage of women working (blue or white collar) is growing steady though mainly in certain parts of the country. While the northerners do not encourage a woman to go to school or work, some other parts of the country only allow them to go to school for a while. Every girl is trained to take care of the home as their husbands provide for them. This economic dependency leaves no option to victims of domestic violence than to endure to care for themselves and the children. Leaving their abusers when there was no other source of livelihood becomes almost impossible.
- Gender bias
While most reports of domestic violence show victims as women, some victims are the men. This is however unheard of in Nigeria culture and seen as a slap on the man and mocked as a weak spouse. Many are unaware of various types of domestic violence, acknowledging only the physical aspect. A man abused emotionally and mentally is unable to report, endures such abuse which further leads to low self-esteem, ugly habits such as alcoholism and use of drugs.
- Sentimental prosecution
While reports on domestic violence are on the increase, corresponding prosecution of abusers are not proportional. Most cases do not make it to court as the law officers demand an evidence which may not be available if the violence is sexual, mental or emotional rather than physical. Though the Constitution of Nigeria hints the punishment for such cases, many verdicts puts in consideration the state of the children. In fact, verdicts are sometimes made according to the connections victims or perpetrators have with higher authorities. The prolonged and repeated appearances in court discourages those who have reported and those who are willing to. Soon, families settle outside the court and victim probably returns to the abuser.
An adage says “to cut down a tree permanently, one must start with its roots”. To put an end to domestic violence, the roots of such act should be addressed.
Various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have taken it upon themselves to educate young men and women against the cruel act of domestic violence. Documentaries have been made to air views of various cultures and abusers have been prosecuted. Yet this is just a scratch on the surface of a painful injury in Nigeria. While some victims have been privileged to have NGOs support, others endured even to the point of death leaving their children traumatized. A research shows that children who grew up in homes where domestic violence occurred are likely to recreate such in their homes. Such will leave many more traumatized adults in the future and unstable homes. A ticking time bomb to be quickly addressed as unstable homes would eventually lead to an unstable country both emotionally, mentally and in other aspects.
The general public should be educated on their actions towards victims, abusers and divorcees and stigmatization should be frowned at.
Law officers should take up cases filed against a certain abuser immediately while confirming the truth of such cases. Prosecution should not take forever to be settled as this is a waste of time and resources on the parts of both parties. A stricter punishment should be issued justly to the abuser with option of no fine.
Osanyinro Oluwaseun, a graduate of Microbiology and currently a master student of Public Health at the University of Ibadan runs a blog on WordPress deejemima.wordpress.com