Domestic Abuse and its impact on Children – A Socio-Legal Analysis

Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse can be defined as the systematic pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that is used to gain or to showcase hegemony over another person. In the majority of cases, abuse is caused by the partner or ex-partner or even by the family member or caretaker; people usually bonded through the law, blood, or intimacy are the perpetrators. It can exist in myriad forms like physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and/or technological abuse or financial abuse.

Domestic Abuse exists as a global problem of enormous proportions. Though in some cases men are the victims, majorly women are prone to such abuse. It is primarily gender-based violence against human rights, having multi-dimensional repercussions on the well-being of individuals in the family. It is seen as a manifestation of patriarchal and hierarchical social structure to dominate and control women. At least one in every three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way- most often by an acquaintance, including her husband. In 2018, over 16 women out of every 100 thousand across India experienced domestic abuse in some form.

Different Faces of Domestic Abuse

According to UNICEF Reports on Progress of Nations released jointly by the government of India and UNICEF, more than 60 million women who should have been alive today are missing. As Erica Jong said, “Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness” and one can also witness the same as discrimination begins even before the girl child is born and continues to exist until they die.

There are several forms in which Domestic Abuse exists: –

  • Physical Abuse
    Physical Abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse in India. It generally involves slapping, hitting, punching, kicking, or use of weapons of any kind or physical assault that causes fear, pain, injury, other physical sufferings, or bodily harm to intimidate or coerce the victim to submit and act according to one’s wishes. Physical Abuse can even exist in the form of homicide, acid attacks, or dowry deaths. In 2019, dowry deaths in India amounted to more than 7.1 thousand and around 240 acid attack complaints were registered in 2018.
  • Sexual Abuse
    According to the Domestic Violence Act, sexual abuse refers to any abuse that is sexual, which ‘abuses, humiliates, degrades or through any act violates the dignity of a woman’. It exists in the form of sexual/reproductive coercion. When one is forced into sexual activity against their will or without their consent, it is referred to as sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by spouse or partner with whom the victim had consensual sex will come under the ambit of abuse. This form of abuse is more common in households where men are literate and affluent. In a survey, it was found that 79% of men used sexual violence to control their wives’ fidelity and 57% of them had more than 6 years of formal education.
  • Emotional/Psychological Abuse
    Emotional abuse is any behavior that exploits another’s vulnerability, insecurity, or character. It involves continuous intimidation, admonishing, brainwashing, manipulation, or even public humiliation to undermine the victim’s self-confidence. Any kind of act that will emotionally disempower the victim will result in abuse.
  • Economic Abuse
    When one uses economic resources to manipulate or exert power over another it is known as economic abuse. This may include controlling the expenditure of the victim or not allowing them to spend at all. In these cases, the victim is entirely dependent on their partner for financial aid and the victim is at the partner’s mercy to fulfill their financial needs. It is another way to exert control.
  • Neglect
    In some situations, the victim is neglected and even isolated which takes a toll on one’s mental and physical health. Neglect refers to the absence of something that is needed or not pay heed to the basic requirements of a person. It generally involves emotional or physical abandonment, not being given priority or being constantly controlled or restricted, or not being allowed to express themselves. Neglect as abuse generally overlaps with other forms of abuse as well.

Reasons behind Domestic Abuse

Crimes against Women

Primarily domestic abuse or other types of violent relationships exist because one partner feels the urge to control the other and act as per his/her will.  Abusers may exhibit this behavior because of low self-esteem, extreme jealousy, anger issues, inferiority complex, or other psychological reasons.

Following are some of the reasons behind violent behavior:–

  • Patriarchal Belief
    People with traditional ideology believe in patriarchy and consider women to be inferior to men and that they should be controlled, for them, women should not be given any rights and they should have no say in family issues. And when they step outside the boundaries set up by them or not work according to them, they resort to abuse to establish dominance.
  • Economic Instability
    Instability caused due to economic hardship such as prolonged unemployment. Abuse can be a result of frustration or pressure, during the lockdown, because of COVID-19, many people got pink slips and simultaneously the complaints of domestic violence snowballed as 1477 complaints were registered between March 25 and May 31 in 2020 (68-day period) which was more than the complaints received between March and May in the previous 10 years.
  • Dowry-related harassment
    Dowry has been the reason for ages to harass and abuse wives. The groom and his family often demand a lump sum of money and expensive gifts at the time of the wedding and if brides do not bring dowry they are tortured, sometimes murdered and some of them are even driven to suicide due to continuous harassment by in-laws.
  • Alcohol/Drug Abuse
    Intoxication also leads to abuse, as the person loses control and is not able to control violent caprice towards the partner and thus abuses the victim. Personal issues like low self-esteem, inferiority complex clubbed with alcohol intake only exacerbate abuse.
  • Psychological Disorder
    The abuse can also be the outcome of psychological illness, as one loses control and acts abruptly in a state of unsound mind. The raged behavior of a person could be the result of split personality disorder, anger issues, or fits.
  • Past Experiences
    In some of the cases, the abuser was a victim of the abuse or he has witnessed abuse while growing up and they have adopted the same behavior and normalized it.

Generally, domestic violence is not the result of a single factor, as research reveals that there is an intersection of various reasons that lead to abuse.

Impact on Children

The devastating effects of domestic abuse on women are well documented. Far less is known about the impact on children who witness violence or abuse and it is obnoxious as the impact on them is not fugacious and even leads to serious consequences. Children are the forgotten victims of the abuse as the impact of abuse ripples through a family impacting not only the victim but the children as well. According to Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, A child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier.

For well-being and proper development, children need a safe and secure environment that is free of any kind of abuse and where proper love and care is given. Violence or abuse could lead to drastic consequences in the life of children be it in utero or adolescents. The impact of witnessing domestic abuse can have several developmental and behavioral effects on children and those can start as early as conception and carry on through adulthood depending on the severity of the trauma, be it deformity caused to the baby in the womb due to violence with the pregnant woman or psychological, physical or other grave events that were witnessed while growing up.

Following are the major impacts of abuse on children: –

  • Impact on Behavioural System
    The witnessing of abuse primarily impacts the behavioral system of the children. The impact can vary from child to child. Children may exhibit an internalizing behavior that is focused inward or an externalizing behavior that is focused externally. Usually, the behavior changes include aggressiveness, hyperarousal, anti-social behavior, fearfulness, increased withdrawal tendency, avoidant behavior in children.
  • Disruption in Cognitive and Emotional Systems
    Children exposed to abuse are at higher risk to face cognitive, psychological, and emotional challenges. It leads to disruption in the normal functioning and learning of the skills. In cognitive functioning, deficits could be seen in task completion, organizing, delays in speech, motor skills. These children are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, irregular eating patterns, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 
  • Physical Consequences
    Some children face physical challenges due to abuse like stomachache, headache, high blood pressure, stroke, vision problems, and other such ailments. They may consider themselves the reason behind the abuse and torture themselves for the same which leads to injuries to the body. The abuse takes a toll on the whole body.
  • Children start accepting violence
    Children start accepting violence and even normalize it happening while growing up. The violence turns meaningless. The children who have witnessed violence are more likely to replicate the same behavior in the future and batter their partners. They even start bullying and develop anti-social behavior which leads to adult criminality.
  • Hindrances in Social Development
    The social development of children is also restricted when they witness abuse. Some lose the ability to put forward their emotions, whereas some feel emotionally numb. They experience hardship in current and even future relationships with their peers or partners.
  • Increased Risk of Children Becoming Victims themselves
    In the households where domestic violence exists, there are higher chances that children are also abused or likely to be abused as the perpetrator is not able to control his raged behavior

Legal Provisions to Safeguard Children

To attenuate the impact on children certain safeguards have been established by the government. Child rights are recognized internationally and our Indian Constitution incorporates most rights included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as Fundamental Rights and DPSPs. The households with abuse should adhere to constitutional guarantees that are specifically for children: –

  • Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the 6–14-year age group (Article 21A).
  • Right to be protected from any hazardous employment till the age of 14 years (Article 24).
  • Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39(e)).
  • Right to equal opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and moral and material abandonment (Article 39 (f)).
  • Right to early childhood care and education to all children until they complete the age of six years (Article 45).
  • Moreover, children are also entitled to fundamental rights under Article 14-17,21,23,24 of the constitution as any other citizen of the country.
  • UN Convention on Rights of the Child has been ratified by the Indian government on 12 November 1992 which acts as a compass and guides the policymakers on which measures are to be adopted and implemented.
  • New National Policy for Children, 2013 was implemented on 26 April 2013 replacing the 1974 child policy which states that the safety and security of all children are imperative for their well-being and children should be protected from all kinds of harm, abuse, neglect, violence, maltreatment, and exploitation. The Ministry of Women and Child Development oversees the implementation of the policy and the National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) was released by adhering to the norms of the policy.
  • Under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act,2005, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was established in March 2007 which focuses on how to safeguard and promote the rights of the children.


Domestic abuse not only affects the victim but also children that are exposed to it. The effect of violence on children places a huge burden on children across all developmental stages, as well as, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and it is long-lasting, it is like when a soldier comes back from combat, hears a click, and hits the ground.  One cannot easily overcome the impact of abuse.

Everyone should work to break this cycle of violence as no one should be the victim, and no child should be exposed to such abuse. Government should develop more policies to combat this issue. More awareness campaigns should be organized so that people are well acquainted with their rights as well as remedies. A society where victims are not seen as ignominious subjects, rather, are helped to tackle the abuse, should be created. The issue of domestic abuse should be brought into public light and for this, society needs to break the code of silence on domestic and intimate partner violence so that all can join hands and work to combat the abuse so that no one has to face the devastating effects of such abuse.

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