Supporting a child victim of sexual abuse
With support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)
Ms. Somphone Toulamy is the Head of the Advancement of Women Mothers and Children and Counseling Division in Xiengkhouang province. Since joining the provincial Lao Women’s Union (LWU) in 2017, she and her team have been providing protection services to women and child victims of violence and trafficking. These services include psychosocial support, legal support and advice, vocational training, and reintegration services.
In February 2022, Ms. Somphone’s team received a report from the police about a sexual abuse case involving Noi (alias), a 14-year-old girl living in Pek district.
Noi’s mother, who is paralyzed, recently found out that Noi’s stepfather has been sexually abusing her for years. She reported the case to the village authority, who then engaged the provincial police and LWU. “We had an urgent meeting on this case and planned for a home visit immediately after receiving the police report,” Ms. Somphone said.
To make the visit less formal and intimidating, Ms. Somphone and her team did not wear uniforms when visiting Noi. Noi was quite nervous and reserved in the beginning, but she felt more comfortable after some casual chatting. “We talked to her like we were her relatives. It’s a skill I learned from a training earlier this year. This worked really well, as she felt safe enough to share information with us.” Applying the counselling and communications techniques, the team was extra careful when inquiring about the incident given the sensitivity and magnitude.
Since Noi was 9 years old, her stepfather has been taking her to the rice field in the name of work and sexually abusing her. These abuses, including rape, happened repeatedly for years. With the information they gathered from the home visit, Ms. Somphone and her team coordinated with the justice sector to take legal actions against the stepfather.
The provincial LWU staff also accompanied Noi to the hospital for medical check-ups and treatments. They conducted regular follow-up home visits to Noi and her mother, and provided counselling sessions to help them overcome the traumatic experiences.
In April 2022, the stepfather was found guilty by the provincial court. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and a 24,000,000 kip (apprx. 1,960 USD) fine.
Currently, Noi is staying with her mother. The provincial and district LWU staff would pay regular visits to monitor their situation. LWU also contacted Noi’s sister, who is living with her husband in another village, to help take care of Noi and her mother.
“I would like to thank UNICEF for the technical and financial support provided to LWU. The Counselling Techniques and Mental Health Counselling Training in February 2022, provided by the Counselling and Protection Center for Women and Children with support from UNICEF was very helpful for my work.” Ms. Somphone said.
In February 2022, She also participated in a study visit to the LWU Counselling and Protection Centre at central level to learn about victim protection and assistance.
With support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), UNICEF has been piloting a child protection system model in Xiengkhouang province under the project “Child Protection System Strengthening through Piloting of an Incentive-based Approach (2021-2024)”. Under this project, the provincial LWU is supported to improve counselling network/ facilities; provide counselling, mental health and psychosocial support and legal assistance for woman and child victims of violence and trafficking.