Courts `are forcing thousands of children to suffer'

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THE LIVES and welfare of thousands of children are at risk because they are forced by the legal system to see violent fathers against their wishes, a charity says.

In the biggest study of children whose parents separate because of domestic violence, nearly two-thirds suffered emotional abuse on contact visits and one in seven was assaulted. The findings, by Women's Aid Federation of England, a domestic violence support charity, show half of the children suffer nightmares and outbursts of uncontrollable anger because of continued contact with an abusive father.

"It is totally unacceptable that anybody is put in danger by the court system and this is happening often," said Hilary Saunders, its national children's officer. "Violent men seek a court order for access to their children so they can continue abusing their partner.

"This report shows the high risk factors involved. We hope the Government will be persuaded to amend the family law to protect children and women in cases of domestic violence."

The Government has issued a consultation paper on Contact between Children and Violent Parents, and is considering the responses. At present, courts rarely deny a parent contact because parental separation is believed to be a deprivation for the child. Every year 150,000 children are caught up in the trauma of divorce or separation. Up to one-third of these marriages fail because the man is violent towards his partner.

A social policy lecturer said: "Children who have witnessed domestic violence suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, nightmares, and extreme anxiety."

The study, of 130 parents and 150 children, showed one in 10 children was sexually abused during contact and one-third neglected. Fourteen per cent had delayed development, one in five suffered fear and 19 per cent nausea and vomiting.