By Anna Jolly
17-year old Seng Kunthea learns vocational skills at Marum training restaurant, in Siem Reap province, as part of UNICEF-supported diversion services
© Kaliyan Mith/2015
SIEM REAP, Cambodia, 1 September 2015 – Seng Kunthea* is a 17-year-old girl from Poipet, a town along the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Her parents died when she was very young and she has been living with her grandmother ever since. Kunthea’s elder sister is now married and living in Thailand while her younger brother works in a casino in Poipet. Kunthea never attended school and began working at a very young age.
At the age of 13 she moved in with a family in Poipet to work as a maid. The father in the family started harassing her and eventually tried to rape her. Luckily Kunthea managed to escape and reached out for help to Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre (CWCC) – an NGO that provides support to violence survivors. CWCC was able to help Kunthea by providing couselling services and enrolling her in a sewing course – one of its vocational training programmes designed to facilitate victims’ economic and social reintegration. But when Kunthea’s only friend at the centre graduated and moved to Siem Reap, Kunthea decided to follow her.
When the two friends arrived in Siem Reap in January 2013, Kunthea was able to find work again as a maid. However, one month into her contract, Kunthea stole a phone and some cash from the family, who quickly reported her to the police. Given her young age and the training on child-friendly procedures that the police received through UNICEF support, the police decided to divert Kunthea to the NGO Kaliyan Mith – a UNICEF partner which provides diversion services. So-called diversion services aim at rehabilitating both the offender and the victim of violence and take different forms, including counselling, group mediation and life skills training.
As part of the diversion programme, in February 2013 Kunthea was moved into a transitional home, i.e. a temporary safe and home-like shelter for training or emergency protection where children can stay while Kaliyan Mith works with the children's families to prepare for their return home, or to find more permanent accommodation for them with their extended family or in foster care.
Upon admission to the transitional home, a case manager was assigned to her and provided her with counselling services. As Kunthea enjoyed cooking, she was given the opportunity to learn and work at Marum, a training restaurant supported by Kaliyan Mith. Having never been to school before, Kunthea initially faced some challenges in learning some of the subjects in the training programme, such as Khmer, English and maths. However, she really enjoyed the course and appreciated her teachers: “I originally enrolled because I was interested in cooking, but now I enjoy waiting tables the most!”– she says enthusiastically.
The staff at the transitional home often mention that Kunthea is very helpful around the centre: she helps with the cooking and chores, as well as with taking care of the younger children living there. Kunthea’s case manager often takes her to Poipet to visit her grandmother and brother, but Kunthea has expressed her desire not to be reintegrated there. When asked why, she explains that her grandmother has a drinking problem, health issues and lives in an area with many drug addicts, where Kunthea feels unsafe whenever she visits. Looking at the future, Kunthea would like to be able to live independently in Siem Reap and to send her grandmother any financial support she can.
UNICEF collaborates with Kalyan Mith and eight other NGOs in seven priority provinces as part of the Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children (3PC) to prevent and respond to violence against children, as well as provide protection services to vulnerable children. Created in 2011, 3PC is a collaboration between the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY), the NGO Friends-International and UNICEF which aims to strengthen the country’s efforts to prevent and respond to child protection concerns.
In addition, UNICEF continues to support the Ministry of Justice to establish a juvenile justice system in Cambodia and train the police and courts in child-friendly procedures to ensure that children’s cases receive the special attention and care they require, such as the diversion services described above. Kunthea is one of many thousands of children who had the opportunity to have a better future thanks to this type of intervention. Despite her difficult past and current challenges, she is much happier now and is preparing herself for her adult life in a much more positive way.
Anna Jolly is a technical assistant with NGO Kaliyan Mith, a UNICEF partner
*Name changed to protect identity