Kenya is witnessing increased cases of domestic violence at an unprecedented rate, revealing a social problem.
The issue is not only a problem for law enforcers, but calls for collaboration between various professional sectors. The remedy lies in preventing domestic violence in the first place through stakeholder collaborative efforts involving religious leaders, doctors, counsellors, psychologists and even lawyers. These are some of the professions that have a stake in social welfare.
It is said that prevention is the best cure and I believe that domestic violence can be reduced if preventive measures were adopted early, even before a family is legally formed through marriage. Pre-marital counselling for dating couples prepares them on how to handle conflict in a non-violent manner.
There is a clear maturity difference between couples who have undergone premarital counselling and those who have not. Pre-marital counselling helps couples understand basic differences between the sexes and their different needs.
Studies including one done by National Directory Of Marriage and Counselling indicate that premarital counselling reduces the risk of divorce by up to 30 percent.
There are some countries that have attempted to introduce premarital counselling as a mandatory legal requirement preceding a formal marriage. Some academic studies suggest that one reprieve to strengthen the marriage institution, is to introduce a mandatory premarital counselling training. In my view, it might be a bit too rigid for the state to legislate such a requirement. However, the importance of this training is that, it would reduce incidences of violence.
Couple mentorship programmes ought to be offered not only in religious institutions but by many other stakeholders. As a couple grows together in marriage, they need to be mentored in various aspects of their life, for example parenting, handling finances.
Unfortunately there are very few such programmes and the ones offered are mostly done in religious settings.
Professionally trained therapists may be important to mentor a couple just as a leadership coach is to corporate leaders.
Mediation is one of the legal tools a couple can resort to, in order to forestall disputes. It enables a couple identifying underlying issues that give rise to conflicts.
Many times a conflict has to do with unresolved underlying issues. Couples resort to conflict in a bid to get attention to resolve an underlying issue. A well mediated conflict will help the couple come to a win-win agreement therefore strengthening the bond. Mediation is a recognised alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
A law on domestic violence was passed recently. The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, 2015 was enacted to provide protection to victims. The Act involves various stakeholders including conciliators, the court and law enforcement officers.
When a domestic violence case is reported, the police are required to advice the victim on various reliefs such as access to shelter and medical care. Victims apprehensive of domestic violence can apply to the court for protection orders. Third parties such as neighbours can report suspected cases to the police as well as file for protection orders to protect children they suspect are undergoing domestic violence.
The court has wide ranging powers in such cases. However, it may exercise its discretion to order the affected family to undergo an appropriate counselling program with court appointed conciliators.