In the beginning, I was young . . . he was handsome. He said I was beautiful, smart, worthy of love . . . made me feel that way. And so we were married, walking joyfully together down a church aisle, our union blessed by God. Then came the angry words . . . the verbal tearing apart. . . . Now I was made to feel ugly, unintelligent, unworthy of any love, God's or man's. Next came the beatings . . . unrelenting violence . . . unceasing pain. I shouldn't stay, but this is my husband . . . promised forever. He says I deserve it . . . maybe I do . . . if I could just be good. I feel so alone . . . doesn't God hear me when I cry out silently as I lie in bed each night? Finally came the release, the realization. It's not me . . . it's him. . . . I am worthy of love, God's and man's. One spring morning, my heart was filled with hope and with fear now only of starting over on my own. And so again I walked . . . down the hallway of our apartment building . . . never again to be silent . . . never again to live with that kind of violence, to suffer that kind of pain. —A battered wife1
Violence in marriage manifests itself in many forms of abuse that include physical, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse. In other words, violence in marriage has to do with all kinds of assaults that causes or intends to cause physical pain and injury or causing emotional and psychological harm. Underlining all these forms of violence in marriage is the element of coercion or non consent; the violation of bodily integrity and well being; and the betrayal of covenantal relationships. In Africa, violence in marriage is often shrouded in silence. People outside the family hesitate to interfere, even when they suspect abuse is occurring. Many times even extended family denies that abuse exists, out of loyalty to the abuser and in order to protect the image of the family. Some people still argue—mistakenly—that intervention by outside sources endangers the sanctity of the home. In this paper, therefore, I discuss the problem of violence in marriage and how it presents a pastoral challenge to the Church in Africa.
1. BACKGROUND: SOURCES OF VIOLENCE IN MARRIAGE
‘Where does the violence in marriage come from?’ Many researches point to misconception, rather to put more bluntly, the aberration of the beautiful practice of dowry (lobola). Some men think that lobola give them license to beat or rape their wives. They think that their wives are their property to use and abuse as they wish, ‘after all’ they would say, ‘I bought her!’ This, however, is a complete aberration of African marriages and lobola. It is as a result of commercialisation and misconception of the practice. In fact, in the past times lobola was a sign of appreciation and thanksgiving. In short, the lobola was a gift to say thank you for raising such a respectable lady - not a purchase of a woman as property. The exorbitant figures demanded by families for their daughters are merely due to greedy.
It is also clear that socio-economical conditions are also the sources and reasons for violence in marriages. For example, quarrels erupt because of men's inability in the modern economy to support their family. This situation creates frustrations, which usually manifest itself in violent behaviour in marriages. Moreover, poverty is also one of the main conditions that perpetuate the situation of some women to remain trapped in abusive marriages. Unfortunately, these conditions rarely exist for the majority of women in Africa today, given their dependence upon men and marriage for economic survival.
2. VIOLENCE IN MARRIAGE: DIVORCE, ANNULMENT AND SEPARATION
Violence in marriage is causing a lot of suffering and pain for many Christian families. It is actually this suffering and pain caused by violence in marriage that has made some good Catholics to seek for divorce, annulment or separation. This is understandable considering that no one would want to live...