Behind closed doors of many homes in India, pregnant women are battered by their husbands and partners. Very few women speak out against the crime. They should — it could end up killing their child.
According to a study conducted in Uttar Pradesh by Dr Michael Koenig, of Johns Hopkins University USA, and his team, the rate of childhood mortality almost doubles if the mother is exposed to violence during pregnancy.
Dr Koenig shared his conclusions, reported in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health, at the Indo-US workshop organized by Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development on maternal and early childhood infections.
Of the 2,199 pregnant women studied by the US team, 402 or 18 per cent had been subject to domestic violence during pregnancy. The mortality rate of the children born to these women was 49.4 per 1,000 births, including stillbirths, in the perinatal period --- up to 10 days after birth. The figure dwindled by half –24.3 -— for children born to women who have not been physically abused. In the neo-natal period -- a month after birth-- the rate of childhood mortality jumped from 26.1 per 1,000 births for women who did not face violence to 49.5 for those who faced violence, Dr Koenig said.
“The conclusion we have come to from our study is that nearly one in five early child deaths could be potentially prevented if domestic violence could be eliminated,” says Dr Koenig.
The prevention of domestic violence is an important, but to date, a largely overlooked, intervention to improve child survival in north India, he said — especially given that the levels of domestic violence is high in the country. Violence, he said, also jacks up maternal stress levels, results in poor nutrition, lower preventive or curative maternal care, leading to underweight babies or premature delivery.
The study also linked domestic sexual violence with gynaecological problems. Nearly 24 per cent of battered women reported symptoms like abnormal vaginal discharge and pain in the abdomen during intercourse.