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Lao PDR opens first shelter for women, children

UNICEF-supported counselling centre to offer support for victims

Vientiane, 16 January 2006  The Lao Women’s Union, with support from UNICEF and other international partners, has opened Lao PDR’s first shelter for women and girls who have suffered abuse through domestic violence or trafficking. 
At a launch ceremony held in Vientiane last week, UNICEF Representative Olivia Yambi called the shelter’s opening a “momentous event” and “a symbol of the lives of children and women who are protected and cared for by their own people”.  The new Counselling and Protection Centre, built on land donated by the Lao government on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, consists of a walled facility with 3 buildings, each supported by a donor agency.  The other donors supporting the centre are the Embassy of Japan and the Asia Foundation. 

The Counselling and Protection Centre offers the first permanent safe house for Lao women and children who have suffered physical, sexual and psychological exploitation.  Shelter staff have received UNICEF supported training to counsel victims of abuse and support their recovery.  The drop in and residential facilities can accommodate up to 50 women and children. 

As one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia,  Lao PDR has until now lacked a dedicated facility for women and girls in need of protection. Trafficking of women and children, notably to neighbouring Thailand, has become increasingly common as the country’s internal communications develop and border movements have been relaxed.  Between 2001 and 2002, Thai officials repatriated 220 trafficked women to Lao PDR, almost three-quarters of whom were under 17 years of age. This number is estimated to be a fraction of the total of Lao women trafficked every year.  Many of those who return from trafficked situations with physical and mental scarring are afraid to return home to traditional villages where their fates may be publicly debated and they may be vulnerable to further abuse.
Describing construction of the shelter as “a concrete example of the government’s response to children’s rights,” Ms. Yambi lauded progress made in the past two years to protect the country’s women and children.   Since 2004, UNICEF has supported the Lao government to launch the first national study on child trafficking, to sign a regional memorandum on trafficking and to prepare a law on development and protection of women. UNICEF is also assisting in the drafting of a comprehensive children’s law which is expected to be adopted by the National Assembly in 2006.

According to Ms. Thoummaly Vongpachan, Deputy Director of the Lao Women’s Union Department of Protection and Rights of Women, these legal efforts have been the key foundation in providing a supporting environment for vulnerable women and children in
Lao PDR.  “The Law on Development and Protection of Women stipulated that such a Centre would be built,” said Mrs. Thoummaly, “and we will need other centres in the future.  The problem of abused women and children is not a new phenomenon, but it is growing with economic development. We must be prepared to combat abuse whenever it occurs.”

A UNICEF-supported television drama on the trafficking of children, filmed in part at the centre, is to be broadcast on Lao television in early 2006.  The drama is designed to raise young people’s awareness of the risks of being trafficked and help them make wise decisions so as to protect themselves from abuse.  Later this year, UNICEF will also support training of Lao Women’s Union staff in five provinces in counselling and psychosocial help.

Support for the recently opened Lao Women’s Union shelter was provided by the German National Committee for UNICEF.

For more information, please contact:
Ruth Landy, UNICEF Communication,  Mobile 856 20 561 1270
Email:  rlandy@unicef.org
Amy Delneuville, UNICEF Child Protection, Mobile 856 20 562 0425




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