Gender-Based Violence: A disease that sucks the soul out of children

CHILDREN have the purest of hearts and this is linked to their character strengths, i.e. trusting, honest, caring, kind, helpful, empathetic, loyal, hardworking, resilient, independent, cooperative, eager, and much more. These are all character strengths that can be turned into weaknesses in the hands of a power-voracious individual. Once the script is flipped, you are left with a generation of innocent children who hardly receive the help needed to overcome the trauma they experience through GBV. “We become what we know unless shown otherwise”.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a disease that violates human rights. It includes physical, sexual, mental, or economic harm inflicted on a person because of socially accepted gender power imbalances. Survivors of gender-based violence suffer devastating short and long-term physical and mental health complications. Girls may experience severe physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies (and abortions), boys and girls experience HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). All of this affects the child’s daily functioning, for example the ability to complete tasks.

Research shows GBVis a topic rarely discussed in the household. In a society where mental health is not taken seriously or frowned upon, it leaves a gap in children getting the right treatment or their families helping them get on the right treatment to deal with the trauma they experience at the hands if their abusers.

GBV affects everyone, however, children are the future and they are the most affected by GBV whether directly or indirectly. There are negative consequences in both direct GBV (when GBV is perpetuated towards the child, first-hand experience of GBV) and indirect GBV (the experiences of GBV is second hand, witnessing someone getting physically abused has an effect of the person witnessing it).

  While dealing with GBV its equally important to study the effects of both. 

Perpetrators of GBV hide behind harmful gender and cultural norms suggesting that men are aggressive and have power over women. Women are considered weak and meek, therefore making it easy for men to violate women. If you add alcohol to male patriarchy, what does that give you?

In households with patterns of GBV parents have habits that children will learn and mimic, because that’s how children learn. Meaning the cycle of violence continues, studies suggest that children who have experienced indirect GBV are most likely to be perpetrators of GBV in their adult years.

Moreover, children that survive GBV are most likely to experience stigma and victim-blaming from their families and communities due to social norms. This stagnates healing as the victim blames themselves for what happened. This type of stigma isolates the child and may result in other forms of GBV likely to happen to the child. In some families to reduce the shame, survivors are forced to marry their abusers. Other children might not report the abuse out of fear that no one will believe them, in some cases leading to suicide.

While the girlchild and women are usually the victims of GBV, gender violence threatens all members of families. The boy child hurts emotionally when they watch their mothers and sisters being abused.

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Most families are torn apart by GBV.

This affects the household as one parent is left to take care of the children. Children and parents might not have the ability to form healthy relationships due to the psychological scars left by repeated incidences of violence. Children that are victims of GBV may take their frustrations out on other children and might accept violence as a means of conflict resolution. It is in these ways that violence is reproduced and perpetuated.

GBV survivor facilities allow for safe spaces for women and children to participate in activities of empowerment, rights, and needs education programs. This includes information on how to identify GBV and report sexual exploitation. In Namibia, even though resources are scarce, in the case of emergencies children are removed from the environment of abuse and they are placed in safe spaces. What is more important, is the economic and social empowerment of women and children. Economic initiatives include free education and the promotion of life skills through the schools’ GBV prevention programmes.

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GBV can and does happen anywhere at any time. It is imperative to think of GBV as a disease, that needs the same urgent attention as any outbreak. The cycle will continue unless we heal and create dialogues to curb the high prevalence of GBV in Namibia.

There are many initiatives in the different communities in Namibia aimed at combatting GBV. However, if gender norms are one of the main contributors to GBV, there should be coordinated programmes with the local authorities. They have access to the people in their communities and they are respected members of those societies. They have power to curb GBV to a certain extent.

It would take everyone to join in on the discourse of ending the GBV disease.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” As a country we need to stand together and form strong support programmes for survivors of GBV where emphasis is put on assuring the safety, health and wellbeing of each and every child victim of GBV, for them to become functioning adults. These programmes should support children in healing and seeing the world and life as valuable in all its dimensions.

There are multiple organisations in Namibia that protect children from GBV including the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare (MGEPESW) through their GBV units across Namibia, the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) and LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia (LLCL). 

LifeLine/ChildLine’s Psychosocial Services to Victims and Perpetrators

Providing psychosocial services to victim and perpetrator are essential to the healing and growth of our nation. LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is a registered Welfare Organisation and NGO whose vision is ‘safer, healthier, more resilient children, families and communities in Namibia’. The organisation operates a National Counselling Centre in Windhoek, which handles different telephone, sms, face-to-face and online counselling services for the whole of Namibia. All services are free of charge. 

Operating within their scope of practice and adhering to all national laws, our counsellors are ready to listen and assist.  The call centre is open from 08:00 – 23:00 daily.  LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia is here for you. Please do not play on the lines, you block the lines for those who may be in immediate need of help!