Expanded services help victims of abuse and neglect find healing in tsunami-affected Thailand

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Healing and support

By Rob McBride

KRABI PROVINCE, THAILAND, 22 December 2009 - Sitting on the floor of her simple home, Nok (not her real name), 17, speaks with Tuangporn Dumrith, a visiting social worker. Her youth belies the trauma she has already endured in her life.

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At age 15, Nok was sexually abused by her stepfather and became pregnant. The ordeal nearly proved too much for the vulnerable teenager. Having received training from UNICEF, Ms. Dumrith was able to successfully intervene on Nok's behalf.

"We were first alerted by the school. They said she didn't want to go out and was even suicidal," said Ms. Dumrith. "The protection system for children was not very well developed, but now there is a much better system for investigating individual cases."

Nok was taken into care, where she delivered her baby and gave it up for adoption. She then faced the challenging and potentially traumatic return to her small village - and to the house where she was abused.

Although the stepfather had gone, Nok still faced anxiety about how her neighbours would treat her.

"I was worried," she admitted. "But with the support of my mother and her friends, and helped by the social workers, I have been accepted once more."

Restoring communities

In neighbouring Phang Nga province, Arisara, 11, has also benefited from the expanded services. Now in the care of her grandmother, Arisara was removed from an extremely vulnerable situation. Having lost her mother in the tsunami, her father left her in the care of another woman while he went to work in a different part of the country.

"I came to live with my grandparents because the auntie I was living with couldn't take care of me," said Arisara.

Her school, Baan Bang Muang, is situated close to the coastline. It was devastated by the tsunami and many of its students were affected. Five years on, there is a real sense of recovery, helped by the creation of a protective and supportive environment.

Now, Arisara sits with her grandmother, learning how to make decorative rose buds from green leaves. She, like Nok, is clearly happier than before.

Ongoing support

Since the tsunami struck in December 2004, UNICEF has supported the training of social workers in Krabi and other affected provinces. Additional resources have been provided to expand child protection services, and several new pilot programmes have been supported to help orphans and other vulnerable children.

Provincial Social Development Officer Sumet Buabucha is pleased with the progress that has been made since the disaster.

"I'm very happy with the recovery after five years," said Mr. Buabucha. "But it will take longer to say everything is completely okay."

UNICEF Child Protection Officer Nantaporn Ieumwananonthachai hopes that many of these programmes can be scaled up at the national level.

"Hopefully the money spent in this tsunami affected area will not only benefit the children in this area, but will also cover the rest of the country," she said.