Pueng* was only four years old when her neighbor, a man she had known all of her short life, attempted to rape her. She had been playing outside in the garden while her grandmother was inside the house cooking lunch when the man approached her and brought her back to his home. When Pueng’s grandmother saw that her neighbor and her granddaughter had disappeared, she ran to his house and found that the man had taken off both his and Pueng’s clothes and was about to rape this four-year-old girl. The old woman rushed inside, rescued her granddaughter, and went home. Afterward, she was unsure of what to do. Policemen and courtrooms scared her, but she knew that what had happened to her granddaughter was unacceptable and she must take action to prevent it from happening again to another innocent child.
“Abuse and violence happen a lot in Chiang Khong District. Many men drink too much and then get violent,” explains Nunnaree Luangmoi, Director of Center for Girls. Sometimes the abuse ‘just’ takes place in minutes, which can be the darkest ones in a child’s life. Often, it is a repetitive hell that lasts many years. No matter how it occurs, these abuses can leave a little soul broken forever and have a lasting impact on the victim’s life. Often, as in the case of Pueng, the victim knows and trusts the abuser, making the crime all the more insidious. Though these incidents occur somewhat frequently in the villages and communities of Chiang Khong, many people are not equipped with the knowledge and the tools to handle an abuse case.
The first time Nunnaree heard about Pueng was when she received a phone call from the local hospital: “I have heard similar stories countless times, but every time it is just so horrible, I can’t put into words what I feel. My heart feels so sad… I mean, why does somebody hurt a little girl like this?” She observes that when she first met Pueng, the little girls barely said a word as Nunnaree filled the silences by reading to her.
“She was very shy in the beginning and we did not talk about what happened at all. We played together and slowly the child opened up and decided to trust me.” Pueng told Nunnaree what had happened to her. Little by little, Pueng strung the parts of the story together. She said that a neighbor did things to her she didn’t like: “Every time I see him, I am very afraid“.
“In the beginning, I did not understand everything she told me. You know, when small kids get abused, they don’t really understand what is happening to them. That makes it difficult for them to tell us. I wanted to help Pueng and also ensure that this man goes to jail. I know what I have to do and I have a network of lawyers, psychiatrists, doctors, and policemen who can help Pueng and her family.” Nunnaree was able to take Pueng’s case to court and two years later, in 2016, the trial is still ongoing, though the outcome looks favorable.
Pueng’s situation is not uncommon in northern Thailand. Her grandfather died recently so she lives alone with her grandmother, who has severe health problems. Her father is in jail and her mother left many years ago to work and send money back home, but she has not been able to send money home for a long time now. Her grandmother lives on a very small pension and tries to make ends meet. Despite this, Pueng’s grandmother wants the best for her granddaughter, and with the help of Center for Girls, she was able to receive funding to support Pueng’s education. Something terrible happened to Pueng, but with the help and support of her family, her community, and Center for Girls, she has been able to begin to move on and step into a brighter future.
“Sadly, Pueng is not the only one who has been abused in this area and I want to help as many children as I can,” Nunnaree says. “But at the end, it is in the hands of the judge and we can just hope that he believes a 4-year old’s word and her grandmother who witnessed part of the abuse.”
*Names have been changed for anonymity.
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