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Psychological Effects of GBV on Children



Gender-based violence refers to any act, whether committed in public or privately, that results in a person’s physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering due to socially perceivable (gender) differences between males and females. This includes threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

One in three Kenyan women has experienced sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre, and between 39% and 47% of Kenyan women will experience GBV throughout their lifetime.

In addition, the lack of access to justice for victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Kenya has been hampered by, among other things, “serious lapses by the police and judiciary in responding to the survivors’ plight,” “delays in the justice system,” and family decisions to choose traditional dispute resolution methods that are not always geared toward access to justice.

Magret, not her real name, a mother of two and resident of Kangemi, Nairobi, examines her scars, and it is obvious from her facial expressions that the events that caused them are still fresh in her mind. I was hurt in my hands and head, but I’m now getting better. She tells me as she tries to hold back tears from welling up in her eyes, “At the end of the day, I have to be strong for myself and my children,” she adds. “What started as a routine conversation between Magret and her husband turned physical, leaving her with serious wounds,” she says. We had a conversation that evening, but we were unable to come to terms with some financial issues. In the blink of an eye, he pounced on me. They fought in front of her 4-year-old daughter and their son. As soon as I began screaming for help, my kids joined in. They cried out in agony, calling out “Mummy, Mummy,” but I was powerless to intervene. She continues as she takes a deep breath, “Neither my screams nor the cries of our babies stopped him. Fortunately for Magret, a neighbor heard the commotion and came to her rescue.

I’m not bothered by my wounds; I’m bothered by what my daughter saw.

She says that the incidents that took place in her home significantly altered her daughter’s behavior. Despite being young, she occasionally asks me questions that I frequently don’t know how to answer. Since the incident, my daughter has shunned her father and any male figure who comes near her. She once warned me, “Mum usikae karibu na baba atakuuwa” (Mother, don’t go near dad, he’ll kill you). Mum baba huwa anapiga watu? (Mother dads beat people?) ,” she asked. Honestly, l didn’t know what to tell her. One thing is certain: My daughter will require psychological assistance in order to comprehend what occurred explains Magret



How does gender-based violence affect a child’s mental health?

When a child witnesses family violence, they come to realize that their home is not safe and secure, and they are forced to start worrying about their future as well as the future of their loved ones. Compared to kids who grew up without experiencing violence in their homes, kids who witness family violence are twice as likely to experience psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Long-term changes in cognition, behavior, and emotion can include phobias, aggression, low self-esteem, and impaired problem-solving abilities.

Children who witness violence occasionally vent their rage on their mistreated mothers. A mother may find it difficult to be emotionally available to her child if she has personally experienced trauma, despite her best efforts. Contrary to popular belief, children who have witnessed abuse frequently use identification with the abuser as a form of defense. Children might become more anxious about being separated from their parents, especially if their father has been imprisoned. When children learn that using violence to solve problems is acceptable, the cycle of violence can sometimes continue.        

What can be done to better the lives of kids who have witnessed domestic violence?

The long-term harm caused by witnessing family violence can be reduced with the aid of specialized child-parent psychotherapy (CPP). In addition to assisting the mother in promoting the child’s healthy development, CPP aids in resolving conflicts between parent and child. According to research, CPP greatly improves outcomes for kids, especially by easing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms. Social aptitude and a network of encouraging adults are additional protective factors for kids.

It’s critical to keep in mind that all forms of gender-based violence violate children’s rights. Growing up in such a setting has an impact on them as adults, which has an impact on society as a whole because it becomes a cycle. Researchers are aware of the intergenerational nature of violence and the connection between early exposure to trauma and the later perpetration of violence.

Everyone has a duty to end gender-based violence by reporting offenders and providing counseling to victims, especially children if we want a generation free from violence in the future.




Veronica Kaveza
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Freelance writer and podcaster

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