Africa / Domestic violence and Covid-19
The COVID 19 virus has taken an unprecedented swipe at the family fabric in a myriad of unforeseen ways.
The pandemic has led to sudden loss of employment, partial lockdowns and a curfew that has forced many family members to stay at home together creating room for family bonding. No doubt, this has also paved way for more screens, phones and social media activities for others who feel like strangers in the home setup where many internet silos and hotspots have been created.
Unfortunately, this new norm is also slowly presenting a catchment platform for toxic domestic strife.
Majority of the Kenyan families have ended up struggling with finances. The food budget has been slashed with no more luxurious spending. No more salon or barbershop visits. The landlords are threatening to evict many families from their houses, while the food stock is depleted. For others, water has been disconnected and the electricity bill is overdue. The online lenders have blocked many defaulters. All are on edge in the home and all manner of intended and unintended conflicts and small fires being lit all over the house. Everybody in the house is anxious and irritable.
The foregoing presents a sad environment where every family member is now directly or indirectly vulnerable and or exposed to all forms of domestic violence. There was no preparation nor domestic affairs crisis management training or counseling given to the parents before they lost their jobs.
Most of the victims of domestic violence are dependents of the violator economically. With the travel and movement restrictions, the victim finds it very hard to vacate the violent environment. They can’t run away to their friends or family for refuge. With the million and one threats of the pandemic in the air, nobody is welcoming visitors to their home anymore. If the violence takes place at night, the victim has the curfew challenge to deal with. The victims living in hardship areas like refugee camps or in single rooms in the informal settlements are more vulnerable.
Majority of the victims are very subdued and intimidated to even talk to anyone. Unfortunately, most of the domestic violence takes place in the full glare of the innocent children who then become passive victims of the ensuing trauma.
Mental health challenges, suicidal thoughts, pain, suffering and depression are possible outcomes of domestic violence that the victim has to deal with. They need legal advice, counseling and protection from the court. The victims and the children who witness the violence suffer from loss of dignity.
Unfortunately, COVID 19 has also attacked the counseling facilities. The much-needed professional help is no longer as easily accessible as it was before. The few professionals are channeling their time to the COVID 19 victims and those in quarantine centers.
The Protection from Domestic violence Act defines domestic violence, as violence against a person, or threat of violence or of imminent danger to that person, by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship.
It includes sexual violence within marriage, damage to property, defilement, depriving the applicant of or hindering the applicant from access to or a reasonable share of the facilities associated with the applicant’s place of residence, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, forcible entry into the applicant’s residence where the parties do not share the same residence, harassment, intimidation physical abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person, where such conduct harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person.
According to the Act, a person psychologically abuses a child if that person causes or allows the child to see or hear the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship or puts the child or allows the child to be put at risk of seeing or hearing the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship.
The Act allows victims of the domestic violence to move the court for a protection order restraining or directing the violator not to engage in the foregoing violence. The court can also offer compensation for any injury, damage and or loss suffered.
During the COVID 19 lockdown and curfew time, the court has the powers to issue a victim of domestic violence an interim protection order outside the ordinary court hours or on a day which is not an ordinary court day. This must be within the emerging practice directions of the court.
The Court can also direct the parties to participate in counseling and conciliation programs so as to prohibit domestic violence and so as to promote a protective environment for all within the family and the promotion of harmonious domestic relations between and among the parties.
Senior Partner at Chigiti and Chigiti Advocates, Kenya
Counsel at the International Criminal Court and the African Court