DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA: AN OVERVIEW
OVERVIEW OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
It was a gruesome crime of passion. A man in Lagos, who accused his 36 year old wife of having an affair with his father, returned home on a Saturday, filled with rage. As if he wanted to press clothes, he reached for an extremely hot pressing iron and heartlessly placed it on his wife’s naked body as she laid helplessly on their matrimonial bed at about 11 pm. He pressed the iron first on her back, and when she turned over to see her assailant, he quickly pressed it hard on her chest, leading to her death. She died in the hands of her husband of 16 years, over an alleged affair with her father-in-law and when she attempted to defend herself; to put up a fight before she died, her husband of 16 years killed her.
Mercy’s case is not an isolated example. Last year, a 29 year old banker, Titilayo Arowolo, was allegedly killed by her husband, Akolade, after an argument that snowballed into a brawl. Before that, the story of the Deji of Akure, Adesina Adepoju now deposed, who allegedly killed his wife, made rounds, thus bringing the issue of domestic violence once again to the front burner.
Over the past 30 years, in the wake of such global events as the United Nations’ conferences on population and development and on women, the international community has become increasingly aware of the importance of women’s gendered social and health status in relation to key demographic and health outcomes. Globally, domestic violence accounts for nearly one quarter of all recorded crimes. Surveys indicates that 10-58 percent of women have experienced physical abuse by an intimate partner in their life time National Demographic Health Survey. Preliminary results from a World Health Organization (WHO) multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence indicated that “in some parts of the world as many as one-half of women have experienced domestic violence. Although the degree differs from community to community and society-to-society, women have been preponderantly at the receiving end in approximately 95% of known cases.
Shija reports that here in Nigeria, an average of 300-350 women are killed every year by their husband, former partners, boyfriend, or male relations. Most times the incidence is considered family feuds, which should be treated within the family. Most police refuse to intervene and advice the victims to go back and settle “family matters” It has become a thing of abnormal occurrence to go through the local newspaper or other news medium or outlets without coming across one domestic violence story or the other, either shared by a destined survivor or the relative of a not so lucky victim pushed into the arms of death by the cold heart of domestic abuse. And as if the gravity of its consequences is not enough pile to swallow, you come across all sorts of comments about how he devil is trying to break the home, or how the man must have been manipulated by some unforeseen forces, some even go as far as blaming it on the woman to have provoked the man! Domestic violence affects women in Nigeria irrespective of age, class, educational level and place of residence. Women are more at risk from violence than men; this is because of the differential access to prestige, power, control of material resources, freedom to obtain knowledge and other basic need of life among the gender. Gender-based violence is perhaps one of the most terrifying illustrations of inequality between male and female.
There exist immeasurable number of governmental and non- governmental organizations, public awareness group, campaign bodies etc. that are dedicated to creating awareness about domestic violence and fighting this epidemical sin. Still yet, domestic violence in Nigeria and the world at large is on the up and up the statistics are daunting! Protection against violence now exists on paper, in many if not most countries of the world. Yet, violence remains pervasive and enforcement weak. In many countries, legislations against domestic violence is relatively recent like the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in Nigeria which is still only applicable in the Federal Capital Territory though some states have on their own, taken up the mantle to enact laws on domestic violence and abuse.
There is no universally accepted definition of domestic violence. Some human rights activists prefer a broad-based definition that includes “structural violence” such as poverty, and unequal access to health and education. Others have argued for a more limited definition in order not to lose the actual descriptive power of the term. In any case, the need to develop specific operational definition has been acknowledge so that research and monitoring can become more specific and have greater cross-cultural applicability. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined domestic violence as the range of sexually, psychologically and physically coercive acts used against women by current or former male intimate partners. Domestic violence has also been defined as engaging in activity towards a family or household member that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested. And it doesn’t matter whether or not physical force was applied as long as the victim has been threatened. Still along this line, the United Nations Commissions Draft Declaration of 1992 on the status of women defines violence against women as:
any act of gender based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, as coercion orarbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life.
From the definitions given above it is clear that domestic violence can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Further into the definition, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) act 2015 (VAP Act) in its interpretation defines Violence as the “any act or attempted act, which causes or may cause any person physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, emotional or economic harm whether this occurs in private or public life, in peace time and in conflict situations.” The Act went further to define domestic violence as “any act perpetrated on any person in a domestic relationship where such act causes harm or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health or wellbeing of any person.” A person in a domestic relationship is one that according to the Act is one that was either married to the perpetrator, or lived together with him, or is the parent or child, or is related to the person by consanguinity, affinity or adoption, or was engaged, dating or in a customary relationship perceived to be romantic, intimate or sexual. Or it could be that the recently shared the same residence.
1.3 HISTORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence has been visible throughout history. In early Roman society, a woman was deemed the property of the husband and was therefore subject to his control. According to early Roman law, a man could beat, divorce, or murder his wife for offenses committed by her, which besmirched his honour or threatened his property rights. These were considered private matters and were not publicly scrutinized.
The Catholic Church’s endorsement of “The Rules of Marriage” in the 15th century exhorted the husband to stand as judge of his wife. He was to beat her with a stick upon her commission of an offence. According to the “Rules”, beating showed a concern for the wife’s soul. The common law in England gave man the right to beat his wife in the interest of maintaining family discipline. The phrase “rule of thumb” referred to the English law, which allowed a husband to beat his wife as long as he does so with a stick that is no bigger than his thumb. Women were not the only ones subject to abuse. In 18th century France, if it became public that his wife had beaten him, he was forced to wear an outlandish costume and ride backwards around the village on a donkey.
In early America. the English law greatly affected the decisions of the colonial courts. The Puritans openly banned family violence. The laws, however, lacked strict enforcement. It was not until the 1870’s that the first states banned a man’s right to beat his family. The laws were moderately enforced until the feminist movement of the 1960’s started bringing the problems of domestic abuse to the attention of the media. By the 1980’s most states had adopted legislations regarding domestic violence.
In Nigeria, these practices were adopted by our forefathers from the then colonial masters and even long after we had gained freedom from colonial rule, the practices still continued; male dominance passed down from generation to generation. Women seeing such violence as a form of correction from their husband and they tell it to their daughters and their daughters after them to see it as a form of love from their spouse – adding that they remain submissive even up until the point of death. These practices are still very rampant among various culture and even the laws in the country.
1.4 FORMS AND PREVALENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
According to an Amnesty International report on Nigeria, on a daily basis, women are beaten and ill-treated for supposed transgressions, raped and even murdered by members of their family. In some cases, vicious acid attacks leave them with horrific disfigurements. Such violence is too frequently excused and tolerated in communities, and not denounced. Husbands, partners, and fathers are responsible for most of the violence. There are different forms of abuse a person may be subjected to in the home. They include:
Physical Abuse This is the use of physical force in a way that injures the victim or puts him/her at risk of being injured. It includes beating, kicking, punching, choking, confinement etc. female genital mutilation is physical abuse. This kind of abuse is one of the commonest forms of abuse. Obi and Ozumba found that 83% of respondents in their study reported physical abuse. Interestingly, under certain circumstances, women, more than men tend to justify the infliction of physical violence. In a survey conducted in 1999, a higher proportion of female than male respondents justified “wife beating,” and this proportion was found to be higher in the northern central zone and lowest in the southwestern zone.
This includes all forms of sexual assaults, harassment or exploitation. It involves forcing a person to participate in sexual activities, using a child for sexual purposes including child prostitution and pornography. Rape is an acknowledged widespread problem but statistics are not certain due to societal pressures which impresses the importance of chastity and honour. The reporting of rape is difficult as many women do not have the education or economic capacity to negotiate the legal system. Raped women are often traumatized and stigmatized and can be abandoned, divorced and declared unmarriageable. The low status of women contributes to their vulnerability in the wider society and within the home. Marital rape is also inclusive.
Economic Abuse This include stealing from or defrauding a loved one, withholding money for essential things like food and medical treatment, manipulating or exploiting family member for financial gain, preventing a loved one from working or controlling his/her choice of occupation.
Emotional, Verbal and Psychological Abuse This means a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards any person including repeated insults, ridicule or name calling, repeated threats to cause emotional pain; or the repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness, which is of such a nature as to constitute a serious invasion of such person’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security. It also includes threatening a person or his/her possession or harming a person’s sense of self-worth by putting him/her at risk of serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. Shouting at a partner which was found to be the most common abuse is included. Traditional practices are widespread. A survey completed by UNAIDS found that 16 percent of married women are in a polygamous marriages and 10 percent of girls between 15 and 19 are married compared to 1.3 percent of boys. Thus, girls are often married to older men leaving them vulnerable to unequal power relations.
1.5 CAUSES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The causes of domestic violence are many, complex and varied depending on the types of violence. The widespread poverty and the political, cultural and religious marginalization of women in Africa, make the African woman more vulnerable to domestic violence. Traditional attitude towards women all over the world help perpetuate the violence. Stereotypical roles in which women are seen as subordinate to men constrain a woman’s ability to exercise choices that would enable her end the abuse. According to UNICEF, causes of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) of which domestic violence is part, can be categorized into four broad categories as being: socio-cultural causes; economic causes; legal causes; and political causes.
Social-cultural causes include gender-specific socialization, cultural definitions of appropriate sex roles, expectations of roles in relationships, belief in the inherent superiority of males; values that give men proprietary rights over women and girls; notion of the family as the private sphere and under male control and acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict.
Economic causes include women’s economic dependence on men, limited access to cash and credit; discriminatory laws regarding inheritance, property rights, use of communal lands and maintenance after divorce or widowhood; limited access to employment in formal and informal sectors; and limited access to education and training.
Legal causes include lesser legal status of women either by written law and/or by practice; laws regarding divorce, child custody, maintenance and inheritance; low levels of legal illiteracy among women.
Political causes includes limited organization of women as a political force; and limited participation of women in political system.
1.6 VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of their ethnic group, income level, marital status, gender, education or sexual orientation. Overtime, statistics have shown that women are by far the most frequent victims and men are the most frequent abuser. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 95% of the assaults on partners or spouses is committed by men against women. Also, a review of studies from 35 countries indicated that between 10 and 52% of women reported being physically abused by their partner at some point in their lives, and between 10 and 30% reported that they had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner. Between 10 and 27% of girls reported having been abused, either as children or as adults . Debate regarding the rates of violence against men committed by women in intimate relationships still exist, and there has been a growing body of research into the nature and prevalence of male victimization and domestic violence in homosexual relationships. However the under-reporting of victimization limits efforts to understand and prevent violence against men as well as those victims living in gay, lesbian and transgender relationships. Characteristics peculiar to victims or likely victims of domestic violence include, inter alia, low self-image; being in relationship with a partner that abuses alcohol or other substance; has unrealistic belief that he/she can change the abuser; is experiencing financial setbacks; believes jealousy is proof of love; is economically and emotionally dependent on the abuser etc.
1.7 EFFECTS ON WOMEN, CHILDREN, MEN AND THE SOCIETY
People who have exposed to domestic violence often experience physical, mental or spiritual shifts. This is because abuse can have a serious impact on the way a person thinks and interacts with the world around them. The chronic exposure to domestic violence–and the stress fear resulting from this exposure—can cause not only immediate physical injury but also mental shifts that occur as the mind attempts to process trauma or protect the body.
In women the most common effect of domestic violence is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Common symptoms associated with PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. These symptoms can also be found among children that have been exposed; and can persist till adulthood. Depression and dissociation is another symptom exhibited by survivors of domestic violence. Coping with the effects of domestic violence can be overwhelming, often because the survivor’s control over the situation has been taken away by the perpetrator. When this happens, a survivor may have the need to self-medicate or use drugs or alcohol to help him or her cope with the overwhelming feelings. Effects of this include prolonged sadness, feelings of hopelessness, unexplained crying, changes in appetite with significant weight loss or gain, loss of interest and pleasure in activities previously enjoyed etc. in extreme cases of depression, people may even experience suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. Children of abuse feel isolated and vulnerable. They are starved of attention, affection and approval. Because Mom is trying to survive she is often not present for her children. Because Dad is so consumed with controlling everyone, he also is not present for his children. These children become physically, emotionally and psychologically abandoned. Domestic violence is also the most common factor contributing to homelessness among women and their children. They may be forced from their homes in order to escape violence, disrupting social support networks as well as children’s schooling and social networks which can be a major factor in hindering development in the society. Lastly, women and children and on very few occassions, men, who have experience domestic violence especially physical abuse are usually left with bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations and internal bleeding. Some chronic health conditions that have been linked to victims of domestic violence are arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome. Victims who are pregnant during a domestic violence relationship experience greater risk of miscarriage, pre-term labour, and injury to or death of the foetus.
In conclusion, domestic violence is generally acknowledged to be a far more pervasive problem than indicated by reports, and much research has attempted to estimate its true extent and associations within the general population. Findings concerning prevalence, incidence, history, gender distribution, causes, consequences and risks of domestic violence vary significantly according to study context, resources and scope. To begin with, violence may take place within very different societal contexts, and the degree to which it is sanctioned by a community will naturally influence the kind of strategy needed because it is a complex problem and there is no one strategy that will work in all situations. It is not always easy to determine in the early stages of a relationship if one person will become abusive. Domestic violence intensifies overtime. Abusers may often seem wonderful and perfect initially, but gradually become more aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues. Women as well as men can be victims of domestic violence, survey however shows that women are preponderantly at the receiving end of this jejune act. Aside the psychological, mental, emotional and physical injuries suffered by victims of domestic violence, some of them go through series of social stigmatization and dissociation in the community and this is a leading factor in why most continue to suffer in silence hence the phrase “domestic violence exist in a culture of silence”.
1] PM News: Escalation Of Domestic Violence in Nigeria. April 26th 2012. Accessed at https://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2012/04.
 Booth, C. 2003, ‘Women’s rights are human rights.’ Paper presented at Access to justice, organized by the British council, Abuja.
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 Shija, M.T. 2004, ‘Domestic violence and its impact on women’s rights’ paper presented at a consultative forum of stakeholders to discuss the Domestic Violence Draft Bill in Benue State – Nigeria p.23.
 United Nations Commissions Draft Declaration of 1992, p.3..
 Section 46 of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015.
 The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 1994.
 Jack Davis, Domestic Abuse Throughout History, Carbot Police Department, School of Law Enforcement Supervision Session XVII, pg 2.
 Supra note 12.
 Under section 55(1)(d) of the Penal code in the Northern part of Nigeria. A man is allowed to beat his wife as a way of correcting her.
 AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL NIGERIA: UNHEARD VOICES (2005) available at http:/web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr440042005 (reporting that a police spokesperson in Lagos stated that the police do not take violence in the family seriously “unless it is a cause of the rape of a child or the husband kills his wife).
 S. N. Obi and B. C. Ozumba, Factors associated with Domestic Violence in south-east Nigeria, published online 02 July 2009, pg 75-78. Accessed on 11th May 2017 at www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0.14.
 Supra note 12. The report stated that: 36.3 percent of women and 21.3 percent of men justified wife beating if the wife goes out without telling her husband; 39.3 percent of women and 25.4 percent of men justified it if the wife neglects the children; 52.5 percent of women and 31.0 percent of men if meals are not ready on time; 33.3 percent of women and 18.3 percent of men if the wife argues with her husband; 34.4 percent of women and 19.1 percent of men justified it if the wife refuses to have sex with her husband.
 Supra note 17.
 UNITED NATIONS, ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA, SYNTHESIS REPORT, SUB-REGIONAL MEETING ON THE DECADE REVIEW OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF BEIJING PLATFORM OF ACTION: WEST AFRICA 13 (participants observed that despite the multiplicity of poverty eradication policies and strategies to date, women still represent the highest proportion of the poor).
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 World Health Organisation Report, 2007.
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 Marcus G and Braaf R 2007. Domestic and family violence studies, surveys and statistics: pointers to policy and practice. Sydney: Australian Domestic and family violence clearinghouse. http:/www.austdvclearinghouse.unsw.edu.au/PDF%20files/stakeholderpaper_1.pdf.
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