When Anna, Arpine and Naira left their husbands after years of abuse, Armenia did not yet have an anti-domestic-violence law. Not that it would have helped them much.
The three Armenian women have more than wounds in common: all of them have been prevented from being with their children since they escaped alleged spousal abuse some years ago.
When women leave home to escape domestic violence, the children left behind sometimes hear negative narratives about their mothers and why they left. With lawsuits often taking years, these children can grow estranged from their mothers.
Such situations are by no means unusual in Armenia. Domestic violence haunts this society. The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women, a network of non-governmental organizations advocating for women’s rights, reported that it received 5,299 calls about alleged domestic violence in the first nine months of 2017. At least 50 women were killed by either their partners or other family members between 2010 and 2017, it said.
Armenia’s anti-domestic-violence law, passed in December 2017, was the first attempt to codify a response to such situations, but it does not address issues of child custody when a woman leaves home for her own safety.
By law, both parents have equal custody rights, but, in reality, the one who is the first to take a child is usually the one who keeps him or her, says Nona Galstyan, a lawyer working at the Yerevan-based non-govenrmental Women’s Support Center. A legal battle over custody is the only option.
But as Anna, Arpine and Naira’s stories show, that is not necessarily a solution.