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For child sex abuse victims, the trauma lingers on

Update: April, 29/2014 - 10:06
Administrative reports from provincial labour departments show that about 1,000 young people, including toddlers, are sexually abused each year and over 63 per cent of victims are raped. — Photo anninhthudo

by Thu Trang

HA NOI (VNS) — It's 5am and people are still sleeping, but Nguyen Thi Nga (not her real name) gets up and prepares lunch to take with her to work at a tailor's shop in Ha Noi's Quan Su Street. She has been employed there for nearly a year.

The work not only provides Nga, a 17-year-old girl from the northern province of Ha Nam, with income, but enables her to have a much more varied diet than the sweet potato and cassava she lived on in her hometown. It also helps her forget her sadness and the trauma of being one of Viet Nam's growing number of child sex abuse victims.

Nga's nightmare began two years ago when she was 15. Because the family was so poor, a woman in her village suggested that her mother let her go to Ha Noi to find a job.

"She promised my mother that by doing this, I could escape from my alcohol-addicted father, and earn some money to help her," said Nga.

Her mother agreed and so Nga was taken to a hotel in suburb of Ha Noi. There she was introduced to a man who would be her boss.

"He gave me money, good meals, good accommodation and took me to buy new clothes. There was only one condition, I must do whatever I was told," she said.

After a few days of such kindness, things changed in a frightening way. The man suddenly made it obvious what he was interested in and so, despite her protests, he raped her. A few days later, while Nga was still haunted by the experience, the man took her to a coffee shop he owned to work with other girls.

She was there for a few days and then, one afternoon, police suddenly raided the shop and arrested her boss for human trafficking. During the chaos she realised, for the first time, that she and some of the other girls in the coffee shop were about to be taken to China and sold.

Police took her to Peace House in Tay Ho District where she was given shelter and received vocational training as a seamstress. Women at the centre also helped her find a job as a tailor's apprentice.

Nga did not tell her mother about the rape or the coffee shop incident, worried that her mother would feel stressed out.

Administrative reports from provincial labour departments show that about 1,000 young people, including toddlers, are sexually abused each year and over 63 per cent of victims are raped. However, these are only the reported figures. Social workers suspect the rate would be much higher if girls and other youngsters felt free to speak out.

The cities and provinces with most child sex-abuse cases are Ha Noi, HCM City, Ha Giang, Lao Cai and Long An. The children are abused in many ways, including being invited to watch films and through physical contact.

Dang Hoa Nam, deputy director of the Department of Child Care and Protection under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, said that child sex abuse was an urgent problem.

"The tricks used to lure children are more and more sophisticated."

Child sexual abusers often choose children who are obedient as they are less likely to resist.

Sex abuse, Nam said, can leave child victims with serious and long-term physical and psychological problems.

Nga said it was difficult for her to sleep at night because whenever she closed her eyes, the imagine of the man who raped her appeared.

"Many mornings, I wake up and find my pillow soaking wet with tears and my eyes swollen," she said.

Molested children are also in danger of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Nam said abused children often avoided telling their parents to protect family honour and prevent discrimination.

Even now, Nga rarely returns to her hometown to visit her mother. She's afraid that someone will discover her secret and put her mother in great misery.

She only stays in her house for a day or two and then leaves. She looks down when passing a neighbour as she thinks it's the best way to conceal her story.

Nam said that co-ordination between the various government departments, such as Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Culture, Sports and Tourism, Health, Public Security would help prevent abuse. However, trying to help victims return to the community was difficult as they often wanted to hide their problems.

Much effort is now being devoted into helping victims of child sexual abuse. Peace House, which was founded in 2007 and run by the Viet Nam Women's Union, is a safe shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, sex abuse and human trafficking.

The house has helped over 3,000 people and provided accommodation for another 600 seeking refuge.

Child sexual abuse also involves tourists. This has resulted in a programme to prevent it as part of prevention efforts in Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand that was launched in 2012.

The programme, Project Childhood, was funded by the Australian Government via World Vision, UNODC and InterPol in Viet Nam. It is carried out in Ha Noi, the northern city of Hai Phong and HCM City.

Project Childhood co-ordinator Nguyen Khanh Hoi said that schools should hold early intervention programmes to protect children. Curricula should include lesson on awareness about sexual matters and protection from abuse.

The project has undertaken research in the community and in tourist areas to assess the situation. During the past two years, Project Childhood conducted a number of training courses for social workers in Ha Noi, Lao Cai, Thai Nguyen, Cao Bang, Khanh Hoa, An Giang and HCM City.

Vu Thi Thuy Hien, deputy head of the Children's Division under the Yen Bai Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, who was attending a training course in Lao Cai, said it gave her an overview on the latent risks and ways to avoid them.

"As a mother, I'm worried that sexual abuse can hit any children, thus I usually talk to them about the problem," said Hien.

Hien explained to her children the risks of child sexual abuse, especially on tourist trips, when going out with friends or making friends on the internet.

No case of child sexual abuse has been reported in Yen Bai so far, but Hien said Project Childhood was trying its best to protect children, especially the poor ones who were at high risk.

Hoi said at-risk children, their parents and other members of the public can call the Department of Child Care and Protection's Child Helpline "Magic number" 18001567 , free-of-charge, available 24/7 for advice and support on the problem.

With such helping hands, victims of child sex abuse like Nga can develop a new interest in life and return to more normal lives. — VNS

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