The six-year-old girl’s face turned sad and she was a bit confused and silent when a visitor asked her for her name.
A woman taking care of her said she hardly speaks and has only learned to write three letters in the past several months.
She is one of the worst affected inmates at a shelter for sexually-abused children on Ho Chi Minh City’s outskirts run by the Vietnam Psychological Education Association.
The girl’s family sent her to the place after she was raped by a local government official.
The police are still meeting her and the center arranges her questioning at a café in order not to traumatize her and the other children.
Nhip Cau Hanh Phuc (Bridge to Happiness) takes care of more than 20 girls from across the country for free. It is the only of its kind in Vietnam, where child rape accounts for nearly 66 percent of the country’s average of 1,000 sexual assaults reported each year.
While some of them arrived because their families wanted to take them away from a traumatic environment, others were rescued after their own family sold them into sex slavery overseas.
One girl fell victim to her father when she was 13.
The father was heavily indebted from soccer gambling losses.
His friends said he should have sex with a virgin to end his bad luck, and he decided to do that with his daughter.
The girl’s maternal grandmother reported him. He went to jail while she fled to Ho Chi Minh City out of shame until someone from the center took her in.
Ho Quynh Ngoc, a manager at the center, said two weeks after their arrival the girls receive medical x-rays and ultrasound scans, and HIV tests if suspected.
The center employs a team of local and foreign psychiatrists and therapists to help the girls recover physically and psychologically, she said.
“Taking care of these children is very hard and complicated because they are all scared and depressed.
“They would be screaming or hiding in dark places like under tables and beds.”
A counselor with a girl at the Nhip Cau Hanh Phuc center for sexually-abused children in HCMC. Photo: Nhu Lich
The center also has to work hard with the families and local authorities to send the girls back to school. Many dropped out because they could not stand curious looks and being teased by their friends, she added.
Nguyen Yen Thao, the center’s director, said it serves as a temporary home but the team wants it to accomplish the important role of giving the girls some education and confidence to change their future.
“We will support them as far as they need.”
Ngoc said one of the rewards of their work is to be called “Mom” or “Auntie.”
“They tell us not to worry about getting old alone because they will bring their children to visit us. Saying that means they have hope for a better future.”
The center can be reached at its hotline 094 975 4294.