Domestic violence is a scourge we wish we did not have to keep writing about.
But we dare not stay silent while this heinous menace destroys the lives of more of our women, men, and especially our children.
It’s no secret that domestic violence is still a worrying problem in Barbados, despite credible strides made the SAVE Foundation, the National Organization of Women, the Bureau of Gender Affairs, our authorities, and other civil society groups.
But SAVE Foundation’s revelations this week that even our children are involved in abusive, intimate relationships are a wake-up call to pay even more attention to our national shame.
A SAVE event this week to raise awareness about domestic violence in the heart of The City, which really should have attracted thousands of Barbadians in a show of solidarity, brought out merely a concerned few.
It was there that chairperson of the SAVE Foundation Barbara Daniel-Goddard warned that girls and boys as young as 14 years old are involved in abusive relationships.
“Teachers are aware of young girls and boys ages 14, 15, 16 who are having conflict in relationships. The boys are slapping around the girls… they are controlling their phones, they are controlling what they are wearing and telling them what they should and should not do,” Daniel-Goddard said.
Her comments were supported by the Public Relations Officer of the National Organization of Women Marsha Hinds who warned among other things that society was turning a blind eye to the problem.
“We have to have a national conversation around the issue and we have to stop pretending that we do not know these things are happening,” said Hinds.
We can hardly find fault with Hinds’s comments. We all live in neighbourhoods where we see the worrying transactions between young girls and older men; we gossip about the questionable exchanges we see in the bus terminals and elsewhere; we wonder how some of our teenagers in schools can flash a wad of cash in their purses and wallets when they don’t have jobs.
Frankly, if we are going to prevent these illicit relationships that lead to all sort of problems, including this abuse involving our youngsters, we must start by challenging our cultural and social norms that tolerate and excuse violence.
Children are children. Full stop. They should not be allowed to walk down the road to destruction in unhealthy relationships of any kind.
Sadly, we have to first point fingers at some parents who just really need to get their act together.
Above all else, mothers and fathers must actively engage in their children’s lives and provide sound guidance on relationships.
Children – 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 – simply should not be engaging in intimate or transactional relationships with anyone. They are simply not mature enough to handle responsibilities of a relationship. Parents have to set clear boundaries and stop giving their charges free rein to do as they please. They are children.
Moreover, adults have to model healthy lifestyles.
When fathers disrespect mothers and abuse them in the presence of their children, mothers vilify fathers, or barter their bodies for the latest cell phone, hairstyle or manicure, they cannot possibly send a sound message.
Both Daniel-Goddard and Layne called for domestic violence prevention to be taught in the classroom for, after all, violent behaviour is emerging at school.
It’s a suggestion worthy of consideration, though it should be thoroughly examined because our teachers really have too much on their plate already, and some parents are ultra-sensitive about what their charges are taught in the classroom – never mind the garbage they are allowed to readily consume from the Internet beneath their noses.
Still, the issue deserves a conversation.
Schools receive all types of children, from varying homes. Teachers are the ones who have to deal with the bullying and the violence we have seen in recent times.
Age-appropriate lessons on gender-based violence that are geared towards changing attitudes could be a positive step.
We need to teach our young boys and girls what are healthy relationships, and that violence of any kind is not okay.
Schools can partner with parent-teachers associations to reach out to the wider community to help spread a zero-tolerance approach to violence.
Hopefully, this will result in more peaceful homes, where violence is not lurking behind closed doors.