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Commentary: Domestic violence and children in the Caribbean
Published on December 9, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Felicia Browne

November 25, 2013, was designated as International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women and Girls. Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, exhorted everyone, “Break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act.” However, since the 25th, we, in the Caribbean region, have witnessed an upsurge of violent acts of abuse against women and children, mainly in domestic contexts.

Felicia Browne is a feminist philosopher at the University of the West Indies and human rights advisor
In many Caribbean societies, there is an aim to primarily focus on their victims and the nature of their deaths, rather than the deep and fundamental causes of these inhumane acts against human life. Many of these victims are women and children, some of whom were known to be victims of continual abuse or violence within their respective communities. In such human tragedies, it is very alarming that in many of these cases, children are involved – whether directly or indirectly. As we continue to implement effective legislation to try to protect the human and civil rights of these victims, many advocates are fully convinced that these legal and social procedures require the collective efforts of every citizen.

Recently, in Barbados, three women were violently murdered by their spouses, while in Trinidad two children have suffered hideous deaths at the hands of their parents. In addition, there have been brutal murders of women, including a female teenager, in Jamaica. In all these instances, the perpetrators are males. Domestic violence has been defined as physical, emotional and psychological abuse by spouses; yet, hardly do we ever consider the devastating effects that children endure within these abusive environments.

The nature and content of domestic violence must be critically assessed from all angles within our society. We must continue to engage young people and children on its effects and ability to create further harm within their homes, communities, schools and society. Given the high levels of domestic violence, it is almost inevitable that many children are either witnesses or victims of these violent abuses.

Young Keyana Cumberbatch and baby Jacob Monroe from Trinidad should send a strong warning sign to other Caribbean societies that child abuse and domestic violence are deeply connected. In many cases, these abuses are direct causes of domestic violence in which the child becomes the immediate victim physical harm, and even death. Domestic violence should no longer be seen only as a violation of an adult person, but a violation of children’s right to live in a peaceful and secure environment.

Additionally, though gender justice assumes that all human beings, including children, have equal human rights, many children are left to suffer under the hands of their relatives or parents. We must continue to also engage our males in resolving these gender-based concerns given that the majority of perpetrators are young males. These types of gender-based crimes should be warning signs that there are troubling inequalities and ideological distortions that continue to exist within our region.

We cannot eradicate violence against women and children without engaging our males. We can, however, begin the dialogue and create alternative solutions for them. Our norms have to change, our culture has to change, and our socio-political outlook has to change when dealing with gender-based violence and its associated concerns. The very way we nurture and socialize our males must begin to reflect our demand for social change.

As parents, we must ensure that we demonstrate to our children, a responsibility in the way that we deal with issues in the home. We can show that intelligent and calm discussion will resolve an issue or concern with much better effect, than any act of violence. Or else how can we expect our children to know better? We cannot expect to violate our young males and expect that our sons will behave differently when dealing with their children, wives or spouses.

The onus is on us, to change the shape of our homes, most importantly our attitudes towards our children -- in particular our sons. Children’s rights are human rights. Domestic violence is a direct violation of their rights. We must begin to re-evaluate the nature of domestic violence and its detrimental role of child development, safety and societal peace.
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