A Journey to a safe home
UNICEF’s intervention in Lao PDR ends domestic violence against 14-year-old Seng* and her brother and helps them get back to school through protection and psychosocial counselling.
Most of their friends seem to enjoy the normal childhood that every child deserves. But for Seng and her brothers, childhood means many distressing experiences.
“My father is a drug addict and a violent man. He used to beat us every day,” says Seng.
At a village on the outskirts of Vientiane, 14-year-old Seng used to live with her parents and two younger brothers, now aged 9 and 5. After years of abuse and fearing for her and her children’s safety, Seng’s mother finally found the courage to leave her husband and ran away with her youngest son. But she had to leave Seng and her 9-year-old brother Vong* behind.
My mother left us with our father. We had no money and did not have enough food to eat. We also stopped going to school,” remembers the 14-year-old. “Our father slept all day and went out at night, leaving us alone at home.”
One night, their father came home late and intoxicated. As usual, he took out his anger on his children, hitting them repeatedly until they were covered in bruises.
“He was so high on drugs. He tied my brother’s legs and arms with a rope and threw him into a fire,” Seng shares the traumatic experience. “We cried for help as loud as possible, fearing he was going to kill us” she adds.
Neighbours heard the children’s screams and immediately came to their rescue. They called the village authorities for further action. The village authorities arrested the father and asked the UNICEF-funded Village Legal Aid Clinic for help, who referred the children to Peuan Mit, a local NGO in Laos.
The NGO, also known as Friends International Laos, provides safe shelter for emergencies like this, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social welfare and UNICEF.
“The social worker was very kind. She listened to us, took good care of us and brought us to the Transitional Home, a safe place where my brother and I could stay,” says Seng. “At the Transitional Home, I met other children of my age and made some new friends. We are now happy and go to school every day,” she adds joyfully.
As soon as Seng’s case was registered, Peuan Mit’s most experienced social workers met with the children and assessed the family situation as well as children’s mental and physical health. Seng and Vong were admitted to Peuan Mit’s Transitional home where social workers provide professional counselling. The organization also collaborated with the health authorities to take Vong to clinic for treatment and weekly followups for his burns.
Seng and Vong currently live in the Transitional home. They receive regular counselling and health support. Both children attend school and participate in recreational activities such as cultural outings with their peers. As a next step, Peuan Mit social workers are working together with local authorities and the children’s extended family to ensure a smooth transition towards family-based care after their school year.
“It makes me proud to see how much they have changed since the first day they arrived at the Transitional Home,” says Davanh, Peuan Mit’s School and Family Registration Social
The Legal Aid Clinic programme is funded by UNICEF for Australia and implemented by the Government of Lao PDR in partnership with UNICEF and Peuan Mit. As part of the project, the Legal Aid Clinic was set up to provide children in contact with the law and female victims of violence with access to justice services. The Clinic also partners with a local NGO Peuan Mit for emergency professional support, including offering of a safe shelter, case management and rehabilitation services for vulnerable children, like Seng. The project aims to build the capacity of local government and community members to promote and protect children’s rights.
”[Seng and her brother] used to be shy, afraid and would avoid eye contact,” says Davanh. “Now they have friends and enjoy life as much as they can.”