… domestic violence through the eyes of the childBy Jeanna PearsonEleven-year-old Justin Fields (not real name) looked up at his mother by the side of the road; it was an hour before he was expected to sit his Common Entrance Examination and they had no money to catch a bus. He watched her, his eyes pleading but he dropped his head the second she took his hands and they started the long walk to his school. Half way there, a teacher saw them and offered them a drop.Hours later, when Justin returned home he found his mother unconscious on her bed, her face swollen and blood on the sheets. His father had beaten her unconscious.“She looked like she was dead and when I touched her she wasn’t moving…she still had on her working clothes and blood was all over. He (father) lashed her in the face because she took a drop from a man…one drop and he think she cheating on he…he is a stupid man,” he recalled.Now 19 Justin still carries the memories of the abuse with him. He stated that the abuse was an “every day thing,” something his father would do whenever he was not pleased with someone. “Someone always used to get knock,” he said.He stated that the abuse started when he was five years-old when his father picked up a mirror and slammed it into his older sister’s face. He stated that whenever his father was angry, whoever was around would face the brunt of the rage.According to a United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report “Behind Closed Doors: the impact of domestic violence on children,” violence in the home shatters a child’s basic right to feel safe and secure in the world. It stated that every child has the right to grow up safe from harm and should feel that those they love are also protected. And in cases where this right is violated, there should be a comprehensive response, taking into account the range of effects and needs of different children.It stated that as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home, indicating that this range is a conservative estimate based on the limitations of available data and the figures may be higher.“I watched my dad beat my mom for the stupidest things. I don’t know why she stayed with him. It doesn’t matter if you have ten small children with him. If he is beating you, leave. This thing has affected me so much, I remember every time he beat her or my siblings,” Justin said on the verge of tears.In 2014, Justin had moved to the US with his cousins while his other three siblings stayed in Guyana with his parents. He stated that he went there for an opportunity to earn some money so that he could help his mother move out.“When I called on Christmas Day and I wished her merry Christmas she started to cry and she told me daddy beat her and that they didn’t have anything to eat. They cooked ochro and rice for Christmas and there I was in the States eating big and she was suffering,” he remembered, stating that this event pushed him to start using drugs and self-harm.“I started taking ecstasy and other drugs…I was drinking a lot and cutting…till one day I cut my wrist and they sent me to rehab for several months. I couldn’t come home and all the time I was thinking how stupid I was to cut my wrist and that I didn’t know what was happening with my mother. I spend days worrying about her. I didn’t know if I would return and not find my mother alive,” he cried.The UNICEF report stated that children who are exposed to violence in the home experience so much added emotional stress that it can harm the development of their brains and impair cognitive and sensory growth. It highlighted that personality and behavioural problems among children exposed to violence in the home can take the forms of psychosomatic illnesses, depression, suicidal tendencies; while later in life it can manifest itself in a greater risk for substance abuse, juvenile pregnancy and criminal behaviour.Justin’s Child Counsellor Abigale Loncke stated that episodes of violence and abuse between family members may prompt efforts on the part of the child to accommodate to such events and form a hyper-vigilant, insecure approach to relationships, often marked by strong emotions like frustration, disappointment, hostility, and fear.She stated that Justin blames himself for what has happened to his mother and sometimes he blames her (mother) for remaining in the relationship. Thus, she indicated that it is important to help children identify their feelings for each parent, talk about their resentment and help them to see that it is not their fault.“In many cases with children who have witnessed domestic violence depression is present along with a feeling that they can’t do anything to stop it from happening,” Loncke said, adding “On one hand, the father is the parent and the child is just a child. What can he or she do when the father is beating the mother? So many times the child feels incapable and blames himself/herself for everything.”Justin stated that his biggest fear is becoming just like his father. “I hate that man. I can’t even watch him in the eyes and he knows I hate him but he can’t beat me anymore. I feel sorry for my mom but it is up to her to do something. All I want is for it to be over and done with,” he said.Loncke indicated that much can be changed if domestic violence is brought into the open. She stated that people need to know that domestic violence is wrong and that the perpetrator should be punished and victim should be protected. She stated that there should be strong policies put in place and enforced to challenge the “norm” of partnership violence and the exposure of children to it.“As long as violence is protected it will continue,” she said.According to the UNICEF report, legislation and policies must reinforce the message that “domestic violence is a crime that perpetrators will be punished and victims protected.” It further stated that these policies must focus on the protection of children and address the impact of violence in the home on children.