Pann, (meaning Flower) 14, lives in a small village that is surrounded by rubber plantations and areca palm trees in the coastal region. Her house is small, stands on stilts and is made of wood with a palm-thatched roof.
Pann’s father, U Zaw, is a fisherman. Unfortunately, Pann’s mother passed away one and a half years ago of cancer. Since then with his small earnings from fishing, he supports his 3 children and ageing mother, Daw Cho. When U Zaw goes fishing, Daw Cho looks after the children.
During Thin Gyan Water festival (Myanmar New Year), most elderly people spend their time by meditating at the monastery. Daw Cho went too, staying overnight at their village’s monastery. During these few days, Pann and her brother Aung 16, and her sister, Hnin 6, were left at home.
That night, while Pann and her sister were sleeping in the house, unusual footsteps woke up Pann. She quickly shook off sleep, pulled herself together and grabbed the torch light near her bed. As the footsteps approached their bed, she quickly turned on the light.
“I saw the face of a man who was trying to come into our sleeping net. He grabbed my foot, he was our neighbor,” says Pann. “I shouted his name many times then he put a finger to his lips making a low noise, ‘Shhhuuuu’,” she adds.
Pann shouted to her elder brother for help and her hands unexpectedly grabbed a piece of wood, which they use to lock the front door and hit the man with it. The suspect ran away.
Pann’s quick action prevented any physical harm from coming to her or her sister, though she was very upset.
“Although my arms and legs were shaking, what came to my mind was to protect myself by fighting back,” says Pann.
The following morning, Pann’s brother and grandmother reported the incident to the village administrator.
As soon as they received this information, the World Vision-supported community group, Child Protection Advocacy Group (CPAG) helped the family with counseling and consulted with the Dawei Lawyer group about the legal process and advice.
In October 2014, World Vision introduced the Child Protection Advocacy Group and its role and responsibilities to Pann’s community. During the meeting World Vision educated them about potential threats to child safety, creating safe and protective environments for children, and the proper referral system when child incident cases do happen.
World Vision supported training sessions about child rights and protection, child law, financial management, and child protection incident case management. Also, income-generating supports were given to vulnerable families in the villages.
Currently, CPAG leads the promotion of child protection awareness, regular monitoring of income generating activities, consulting legal process, and providing advice for child incident cases. The CPAG operates the meeting, awareness sessions, and provide health, education, and transportation support for abuses cases, or ones under investigation, with their own funding.
As soon as U Zaw heard the news, he promptly came back to village where he reported the incident to the police department.
Although the suspect’s family tried to meet with U Zaw for a pardon, he rejected.
“I won’t accept paying for forgiveness. I will go for further legal process. If I had accepted the payment, who knows if he would not do something like this again?” says U Zaw.
Due to poverty, some abuse cases or potential abuse cases are “fixed” by the payment of cash. The perpetrators negotiate to pay money and in return, ask that the incident not be reported to the police. Lack of awareness on child protection is a key issue in why some families do not report cases of abuse.
U Zaw decided to prosecute the man in order to protect other children from their village.
“Children could become victims and an abuser might request forgiveness as a chance for further sexual exploitation,” he adds.
CPAG provided transportation costs for the family when they have to travel for the prosecuting process with their group funds. To ensure children safety, now U Zaw’s sisters stay with the children while he goes fishing for days in the ocean.
Educating community and children about potential threats to child safety and having proper referral system for child incident cases will help create safe and protective environments for children and prevent threats from perpetrators as well.