Domestic Violence Instigated by Siblings

Domestic violence is highly recorded and talked about as it occurs between spouses. Most of the work around ending domestic violence and promoting peace in the home is carried out to end abuses perpetrated by either the men or the woman on either one of them.

However through discussions and conversations with adolescent girls and young women Girls and Women Empowerment Network Trust, (GWEN) has observed a high number of male siblings abusing their female siblings.

This article is inspired by a young lady (Sophia pseudonym) and other young women whose stories the writer has listened to, stories that attract tears and hurt. Sophia has three brothers and she is the only girl child in the family of four. Sophia explains how she was forced into marriage at the age of 19 by her brothers who asked her to return to her boyfriend’s home, after she had come home around 1700 hours on Friday. The brothers felt she was doing things she wanted and was now grown up to be married so she can continue to enjoy life her way. Being a girl and having no-one to speak for her, Sophia returned with (William) who she sires a child with a year later.

Sophia became a mother at 20, at that stage she had to quickly mature so that she can be a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law and many other roles that come with being forced into a marriage. A few months after giving birth, William decided he needed a more mature and obedient wife. The cycle of domestic violence begins (that is with her husband and her brothers back home); for a month William wanted nothing to do with Sophia, he would bring other woman into their home and express his displeasure at Sophia as a wife. She sometimes had to sleep outside or seek refuge with her mother in-law. When the mother in-law could not provide for her and see her suffer, she advised Sophia to return to her parents. Having learnt of the abuse, the parents accepted her back on many conditions that bring tears to Sophia’s eyes as she explains. Today Sophia bears the physical and emotional scars of the experience.

Another form of abuse takes centre stage in her parent’s home; at this point Sophia is convinced she has no other choice but to live with the abuse for the sake her daughter. After the separation, William who had not paid any part of the bride price for Sophia never came to visit or even provide for the child. Sophia’s three brothers who were not happy with her return home began beating her up, as a form of discipline for her failure to stay at her husband’s home. Sophia was not allowed to visit with friends. At 24 years, Sophia is still being assaulted by her brothers as discipline.

The brothers justify their actions because they are culturally the fathers in the parent’s home. Sophia is now forced to submit to her biological father and the three brothers, who according to their culture and Shona customs, as heirs to her father, are fathers to Sophia. With tears in her eyes, Sophia laments how she submits to and is ‘disciplined’ by her brothers more than her father ever did when she was a child. Every time the siblings visit the parents’ home, Sophia and her child are reminded they do not belong and that it is time Sophia send her daughter to William, a man who never provided for the child.

Sophia’s story is a tip of an iceberg, many girls and women out there are forced to submit to siblings, they live in fear and are reminded they should get married, leave the parent’s home or return to ex-husbands. The plight of the girl child, in this not so much talked about abuse is huge and unbearable. This form of abuse has been so normalised by the community so much that, the male child who is identified as a father at birth is given the green light to abuse the girl child who is looked upon as daughter in-law from birth.

The girl child from childhood is told by the parents and siblings that they do not belong she is treated as an outsider who will marry and leave her parents’ home, and when they marry they are still told that they are strangers and is treated as a visitor in that marital homestead which is a double tragedy on the girl child and poses a myriad of questions on the mind if a woman has any place in this world and if they are humans also with rights. To worsen the plights, the girl child inherits nothing from her father even in death. She is treated as her brothers’ child in her parents’ home, even if she is the oldest in the family. Hearing these and many sibling domination forms of abuse, GWEN will continue community awareness campaigns on girls and women’s rights.

The issues never be solved or concluded in one day, but the appeal to the community, traditional and religious leaders to help address this loophole can be done now. Raising a child is a big task, as parents raise children, please let us not raise one with rights and the other without, let us not ascribe title that make the male child superior than the female child and lastly let us not promote situations that lead to emotional and physical scars on the girl child. This form of sibling abuse, creates a cycle of Gender Based Violence that if not nipped in the bud, will destroy our people.

Kumbirai Kahiya is the Director of Girls and Women Empowerment Network Trust,(GWEN). She writes in her own capacity and can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pic: Sunday Mail

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