Friday, April 10, 2015

Defying the Odds, Dreaming Big

UNICEF staff interacting with Nina during a visit
to the shelter in Atabae, Bobonaro District
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2015/Opinto
It is a rainy day in Atabae, a remote sub-district of Maliana District, which borders West-Timor. People are busy doing daily chores.  The scenario is not very different in the “Maria Tapo” shelter home situated on the outskirts of Atabae.

Nina*,12,  has just arrived from school along with other children. Her clothes are soaked from the rain but she smiles when she sees Jose Henrique, the Child Protection Officer who saved her from uncle’s house who used to routinely abuse her.

Difficult Journey

Life was not easy for Nina. Nina was separated from her parents when she was only two years old. “I heard from my neighbours that my father did not pay any dowry when he married my mother. As I was the first born child, my mother’s family insisted that I belonged to them and I had to live with my uncle and aunt.”

“My uncle and aunt forced me to work as a maid and cook as I grew up. I had to fetch water from far away, wash everybody’s clothes and mash the maize. Whenever my uncle and aunt were unsatisfied with me they would beat me severely,” Nina says while talking about past days at her uncle’s house. “Instead of eating together with the family, I had to eat alone. My food was usually rotten and left overs no one else would eat that food,” Nina continues.

The memories of cruelty are still vivid in Nina’s mind. “It was a Monday afternoon, raining heavily. I could not smash enough maize and prepare enough food for my uncle. My uncle became very angry. He took a rope which was normally used for tying horses, tied me to a tree and beat me up. I was crying. My aunt also got angry at me and banged my head against the tree. I got a big wound on my head. “They would beat me every day. But then somebody saw it and informed the police who saved me.”

Nina’s case came to the attention of a local Child Protection Network (CPN) in Atabae, sub-of Bobonaro district. The local CPNs were established by the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS), with support from UNICEF in 2008 operating in all 13 districts. These inter-agency networks provide referral services to children and families in need of protection and raise awareness of children’s right to protection at the community level.

“It was in September 2014 when I received a call from a local NGO. I was shocked when I first saw Nina, a little malnourished girl with bruises all over her body and a big wound on her forehead. She was very dirty, and was also crying, yelling, and swearing at everybody. Nina was severely traumatized by the severe maltreatment she had to endure for so many years,” says Jose Henrique the District Government Child Protection Officer. Nina was identified by Joaquim Marcos, Social Animator of that area who informed the local Child Protection Officer and saved her from her extended family with the support of the local police.

Data on the prevalence of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence in Timor-Leste is limited. Mapping and assessment of the child protection system indicates high levels of physical violence against children. Official reports of child abuse cases have increased over the last five years. The provision of quality care and protection services remains a challenge.

Dreaming Big

The police removed Nina from her uncle and aunt and brought her to Maliana to receive medical care and temporary shelter. While trying to trace her mother, Nina was placed in a longer-term shelter where she can benefit from counselling and rehabilitation services. For the first two months, Jose visited Nina every day and provided counselling. Nina is slowly recovering and is no longer the distressed child that first arrived at the shelter.  She enjoys going to school, has made friends and established close relationships with the shelter staff.

“Training on Case Plans and Reintegration from UNICEF has helped us to do our case management better.  Because of this training, I am more capable of providing the best possible support to children as Nina,” says Jose. Jose and the other Child Protection Officers are reviewing Nina’s case plan with a focus on monitoring her care and building relationships between Nina and her biological parents which will assist in her aftercare needs and reintegration back into their care.

For child abuse victims like Nina, reintegration to their families and communities requires careful planning and often requires a lot of time and efforts due to the limited support services available for children and families at community level.

Nina now has hope for her future. “I want to be a teacher after finishing my studies,” says lovely and confident Nina, while talking about her future plans.

*name changed to protect identity 

By Gizela Moniz d Silva, UNICEF Child Protection Officer

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