Aged 29, Violet is a stepmother to an 11-year-old daughter. She thinks her step daughter is the typical spoilt ‘daddy’s girl’ who always has everything her way from the time her mother walked away six years ago.
She cannot tell her when to go to bed, when to study and cannot even say no to her requests for sleep overs.
The youngster does whatever pleases her and Violet wonders what kind of an adult she will turn out to be if she as a mother cannot discipline her.
Eye of the Child executive director Maxwell Matewere stresses the need for everyone to understand the importance of disciplining children.
“It is very important, but we should use methods which teach children how the mistake could have been avoided. In other words, we should try at all cost to use positive discipline approach.
“We also need not rush in judging children. We need to understand the problem and come up with a discipline method that will make the child understand the mistake and not create fear in him or her,” he says.
However, certain step parents are simply abusive in nature regardless of whether the step children are well behaved or not; bringing about long lasting negative effects on the abused children.
For this, the child rights activist suggests that couples planning to divorce should be properly counseled and present proper child care plans in court with well spelt out commitments.
“Most of these things are in the new Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, but have not been put to good use. We must understand why the new law has included issues related to family relations. Mostly it is to protect the interests of children,” he says.
The rate of abuse against step children is high in the country, according to Matewere and he says it has remained the number one crime against children for the past five to six years.
Sociologist Charles Chilimampunga noted that for some stepparents, the step child is a constant reminder of a past relationship that the spouse had, which in some cases not only strains the relationship between the couple, but also between the parents and children.
He observes that effects of abuse may be long lasting and are wide ranging from child failure in school, bad behaviour, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse; poor health, violent behaviour, withdrawal and crime among others.
Matewere reminds parents that children learn everything from them as they grow up and that everything done to them or other children is exactly what they will do to others when they grow up.
“If you don’t educate your child you invest that child in poverty; if you call your child a dog, that child will grow up behaving like a dog and if you fight as parents, children will look at that as the best way to settle differences. It is high time we taught our children through our actions,” he says.