Children who have been exposed to violence and abuse from family and society are at a greater risk of being violent as compared to those who have not experienced violence.
This is according to Professor Shanaaz Matthews, director of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, who said nearly half of women across South Africa were subjected to violence by an intimate partner, which in turn negatively affected about one in four children.
“A child who is exposed to violence in the home also risks being abused and will, quite reasonably, fear for their own safety. There’s an increasing global recognition that violence against women and children often occur together in homes, and are driven by the same factors. For instance, young boys who witness their mothers being abused in the home or who are abused themselves are more likely to harm women and children later in life,” she said.
Matthews said in South Africa, as in many other places, social and cultural norms promoted a gendered hierarchy where men were in a superior position over women and children.
“These social norms provide considerable space for men’s violence towards women and children to be tolerated. They are manifested in expressions of masculinity, enforcement of gender norms and the way that children are disciplined,” she said.
Clinical psychologist Samkelisiwe Nosipho Mthembu agreed: “Both boys and girls emulate violence in the same way. However, the only difference is that because of socialisation girls are taught to be more well-behaved in society and as a result they become less likely to show violence. Whereas with boys, being aggressive means being a strong man, and because this behaviour is encouraged it means boys are more likely to show violence.”
Mthembu said children modelled adult behaviour and while they were children this behaviour translated to acting up at school or bullying others.
Matthews said it was this aspect of exposure to violence that drove intergenerational transmission. This has a direct impact on their relationships with intimate partners, as well as their ability to be emotionally responsive parents, she said.
She said there was an increasing global recognition that violence against women and children often occurred together in homes, and driven by the same factors.
Matthews said if children were to reach their full potential and the cycle of intergenerational violence was to be broken, South Africa must consider collaborative solutions.
“Any programme of action must be aimed at preventing violence before it happens and providing an effective response and support to those affected by violence,” she said.
Molo Songololo director Patric Solomons said the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign had not changed the attitudes of men who abuse, rape and kill women and children.
“It is difficult to say exactly what the impact of 16 Days of Activism campaign has achieved. Despite advances in legal protection for women and children since 1998, we have seen a steady increase in violence against women and children.
“The president’s emergency plan has yet to take effect. Many children and women who live, go to school and work in under-resourced and dangerous environments continue to live in fear every day,” he said.