The painful circumstances from which the girls in our home come from spans across the whole country, however most of them are from districts stricken by poverty, or remote areas such as Tay Ninh, Dak Lak, Can Tho, Vinh Long, Soc Trang, Ca Mau...to name a few.
They come from areas where housing is a commodity, and they live in makeshift huts or under tents, deep down winding roads, past the rice fields...past lush gardens untouched by modern civilization....Although only a few hundred kilometres from the centre of the country's largest city and financial hub, but coming here is like stepping into a time machine, transporting you back to Vietnam from centuries gone by.
A very typical scenario in this area of the country: The parents of these children are more than likely uneducated, with little social awareness or motivation to seek a better life. The father is more often than not no stranger to the home-brewed alcohol, and spends his unemployed days drowning in it, while the mother is often doing what she can to make ends meet. General education, ethics and morals tend to be non-existent in these areas. A feeling of oppression and darkness has been passed down from generation to generation. Many of them are illiterate, despite being in their 30s, and don't know how to write their names. We often have to resort to fingerprinting when it comes to doing any legal paperwork with them.
The front of the house of a child that was rescued. The majority of the case we come across occur in impoverished communities, where both parents are unemployed and/or are alcoholics, or reported by their neighbours. Unfortunately, the social stigma of victim blaming is still very high in these areas, often causing the child to become an outcast, which causes even more detrimental damages to her mentality.
"Is this edible? What is it?"
This is the endearing tale of two sisters. When they were first welcomed into our family, they were fine until dinner time came. Presented with rice, meats and fish, the two sisters were happy to eat the rice, but sat and stared at the meat and fish dishes. For 2 days, every meal would have the two sisters eyeing meat dishes. After asking what was wrong, it came to light they had never seen meat or fish as part of a meal.
I called their mother a few times, and finally was told they lived in such destitution that every meal consisted for rice and salt mixed with water - Our House Mother recalls.
The children are taken on vacations twice a year, with little trips in between to local sights and attractions.
It's taken a while, the the two sisters were finally able to happily indulge in meat and fish. Although it does seem that years of a diet consisting or rice and salt-mixed water has become somewhat of a habit for them. Even after 4 years with living in their new family, and despite being fed all kinds of flavourful dishes, every 3 or 4 months, the sisters ask if they can just have rice with their salty water.
But, my personal opinion on this differs to the House mother. I don't think it's necessarily a habit so much as a 'home-comfort'. After all, these are two sisters who were raped by their father's friend during a drinking session, that usually accompanied meal time. The habit or home-comfort that formed was memories of sitting with their father eating salty rice, before the terrible ordeal happened.
On that day, the father was absent for the family home. His friend gave money to the elder sister and told her buy some alcohol for the father's return. While she was gone, he dragged the younger sister into the bedroom and violated her. She was only 6 or 7 years old.
After purchasing the precious alcohol, the elder sister came home to sounds of her sister crying and started pounding on the door. He opened the door. Threw the younger sister and repeated his vile act on the older sister.
And this repeated itself a few times over, until one day a neighbour walked in a discovered what was happening. It was only then that the mother and father of the two sisters were aware of what had been happening in their very own home, with a trusted 'friend'.
When the girls first came home with us, both the sister were timid and shy...flies weren't scared of them. They were emotionless, in a daze. Watching their lifelessness scared us - Our House mother reflects on the two sisters.
Only a monster without a soul could even consider hurting little angels like these.
Let's buy some alcohol!
Yet another case involving 2 sisters, in another shelter across town. These two sisters were molested by their step father, when the younger child was 7, and the older child 9.
Their mother notified the police, and he was thrown into jail to rot. However, fate was not kind and their mother passed away. The two sisters were moved to live with their maternal grandmother, in the depths of District H.
The two sisters would sit in their chairs, rocking back and forth, staring into space, never tired of the repetitive motion. A man walks past and they would wave to him, neither knowing or caring who he was. The elder sister was as graceful as a bowl of maggots -- she would just pee in her pants if she felt the need to go. It didn't matter if she needed to do number 1 or number 2, it would just all come out at any given time, despite being taught and reminded many times to use the bathroom.
After being welcomed into the shelter, the two sisters displayed some really strange requests: Whenever meal times came around, they would pester the staff to go out and buy alcohol. When they were asked why they needed alcohol, the younger sister explained while their mother was out working all day, their stepfather would buy alcohol for them to drink together. And out there, in the middle of nowhere, the relationship between alcohol and animal urges emerged.
Exposed to alcohol from such a tender age, followed by being sexual abuse caused both children such mental trauma, that they have had behaviour issues since.
"Can we watch the kind of movies with naked people?"
Little Thuy Tien was molested with she was 5 years old - the same age as other children who still need to be spoon fed. She was 6 years old when she came to live with us. Yet for the first year, whenever the girls were allowed to watch cartoons during their off time, she would throw a tantrum, insisting on watching "the movies with naked people kissing".
And so it came out. When her father passed away, her mother brought her into the city, and rented a small room in the projects. She had to work all day, and left Thuy Tien to play by herself in the community building. She met the nephew of the landlord, also a resident of building, around 17 or 18 years of age. Whenever the mother was away, he would lure Thuy Tien to his room with the intention of rape, and have his XXX movies playing in the background. It was the only form of televised 'entertainment' that she would know growing up, until being moved over to our family.
SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN:
In the last 5 years (2011-2015), there have been 5,300 reported cases of sexual abuse of children, out of 8,200 cases of crimes against children including violence. NOTE: The number of sexual abuse cases reported against boys has increased dramatically.
(circle): Number of cases of sexual abuse against children from 2011 - 2015
THE NUMBER OF CASES OF ABUSE AGAINST CHILDREN RISES EVERY YEAR (according to the Department of Social services and Police Department)
(red box) Number of cases
(blue box) Number of arrested
In the majority of incidences of sexual abuse of children, the violator is usually someone close to the victim, such as a family friend, a neighbor...not to mention teachers, step fathers, biological fathers....
Mrs. Van-Anh Nguyen, President of CSAGA (Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents) says: A study conducted at 3 major universities in Ha Noi shows that 11% of students have been sexually abused.
More so, social networking, chat forums and online messaging is increasingly become the top method for sophisticated predators in finding their next target. Parents posting pictures of their children, or allowing your child unmonitored access to social media can make them a target for this crime.
"I can never feel warm"
The story of Ngoc Lan is completely different. Her family circumstances allowed for her to receive an education, as well as have extra tutoring at her teacher's house.
The hardest part to accept about her abuse, is when her family found out, instead of immediately protecting her, afraid of becoming social pariahs, they let it past. They were afraid of "making a big deal" out it. When that happens, it's hard to take any further action, despite the innocence and childhood of a young girl had been taken from her.
After living with us for a year or two, Lan took a turn for the worse. She had been previously diagnosed with a form of encephalitis, with extensive neurological damage. Combined with the trauma and stress she had been through, it finally caused an outburst. She lost her mind, tearing up clothes, wielding a knife threatening to stab anyone who came near her.
The distress and trauma caused after such abuse is not something that can be overlooked. In fact, these are the notes for a carer for an abuse victim, Tuyet: She wasn't like the other children from the get go. If there were any problems, or if she had any feelings of anger, stress, or emotional distress, we never knew. She would just laugh, almost manically, never saying anything. To be honest, I wasn't prepared for a situation like this. It wasn't just myself, but the entire family was left frustrated by her constant laughing.
A child of only 12, with an impoverished background, was placed in the care of a shelter where she was ultimately raped. Her mother withdrew her immediately and brought her home to stay with her family. And here, in the family home, she was raped again by her uncle...
What she went through lead to years of mental trauma. Being delayed in schooling, she was only accepted into an education centre, but even there she did not learn much. She might remember today's lesson, and forget it all tomorrow, almost like selective memory. It felt like a stale mate situation.
She was unable to look after herself. Instead she would spend her time talking nonsense, the kind that neither had a start or finish; or tell the other girls of her fantasies that would leave them scared. But eventually, we were able to instill some basic social etiquette into her. We decided to continue sending her to school, although she would not receive any official paperwork upon graduation. She was excited at being able to attend school, but right off on the first day, the other children teased her and called her 'crazy girl', while the teachers were left shaking their heads, skeptical they'd be able to teach her anything.
All the other girls reminded her to stop laughing randomly so much. Only laugh when the moment calls for it, or everyone will think you're crazy. "Yes, yes, I remember" -- until the next time she forgot.
Pictures taken by Phạm An/ Trí Thức Trẻ
Translated by Jacqueline Huynh. The original version in Vietnamese entitled "Những Đứa Trẻ Bị Xâm Hại (Kỳ 2): Ám Ảnh Lời Con Trẻ Sau Những Chấn Thương"