Trapped at home because she has a disability while her mother Desi went out to work each day, Heda was just nine when the first man came into the house and raped her.
Today Heda* is 14, but she’s experienced a depth of neglect, abuse and cruelty that few people confront in a lifetime.
Yet, bitterness is not one of the burdens that Heda carries. She laughs and hugs the World Vision staff who’ve come to visit – a highlight in her days, which for the most part stretch out long and lonely, waiting for her mother to return home from work.
Heda was only a few months old when Desi first realised something wasn’t right – she couldn’t move her arms and legs or roll like a baby should. At the health clinic, the doctor told her there was nothing they could do. Desi still cries when she remembers the day she realised that their life – in their small, patched-together home; in their village with little infrastructure and few services – would always be a desperate struggle for Heda, and for their family.
Desi’s husband was angry at the news; at the world. He left Desi and Heda behind and went to start a new life and a new family on the other side of the city. As time went on and Heda’s impairment became more obvious, even Desi’s family stopped coming to visit.
Desi faced the situation alone. They needed to eat, and so she found work as a labourer – a hard job, loading and unloading bricks and other construction materials from trucks. But that meant Heda had to be left at home, alone. For the five hours, Desi was at work each day, Heda would be in the house by herself, with nothing to do but wait for her mother to return.
“Heda only stays in the house,” explains Desi. “She [has to] urinate here on the floor. Later, when I get home, I clean it up. It’s hard for me to go to work [and leave her] but my husband is not here. I’m the only one who works and earns money to buy rice and [what we] need.”
Desi worried about Heda being lonely and uncared for all day. But she had never dreamed of the much darker danger her daughter faced.
Heda was just nine when the first man came into the house and raped her. In the following weeks, another four men did the same. After the fifth time it happened, she clung to her mother when Desi was leaving for work, crying and shrieking that she didn’t want to live there anymore. In horror, Desi discovered what had happened. Several of the perpetrators were Heda’s older cousins, the sons of Desi’s brother, who is the community leader.
“She didn’t dare tell me straight away out of fear,” Desi weeps.
Desi knew World Vision was working in their community, and asked a community volunteer for help.
“The volunteer reported there was a child who had been sexually abused. It made my heart so sad,” remembers Frengky Toga, World Vision’s sponsorship officer. “We immediately visited her house and helped her to report what [had happened] to the police.”
The police interviewed Heda and took a statement from Desi. But Desi’s brother was angry and told her to stop making trouble. A medical examination proved Heda had been abused and the police sent a formal request for the accused men to attend an interview. But the accused ignored the letter, and the police dropped the case. Desi was devastated, but there was nothing she could do.
But Desi and Heda were not alone. World Vision connected them with government services that can help her to meet Heda’s needs, build a safer house, and tap into new income-earning opportunities. A local government agency continues to closely monitor Heda’s situation and works with World Vision to ensure she is cared for.
“It is their right to have the support of the government system,” World Vision’s local Area Programme Manager Naysa Masela explains. “We are helping them to access that right.”
At the same time, child sponsorship is working with the whole community in Heda’s neighbourhood – from parents to faith leaders – to stamp out violence and create a safer place for all the children there to grow up in.
“Now we are also working to help the child protection system work better so that parents are more protective and understand their role in positive parenting and protecting children from threats,” Naysa explains.
Today, Desi is taking action to protect Heda, who is now 14, and to do what she can to help make sure no other children ever live through the same horror.
“Because of what happened, I have a passion to protect my child and also other children,” she says.
Desi has joined forces with the World Vision child sponsorship programme to share Heda’s story with community leaders through special information sessions, opening their eyes to the dangers that children face right in their own neighbourhood and inspiring them to build a stronger community that protects children and understands children’s rights. These faith leaders are now part of the network of community volunteers, World Vision staff, and government organisations looking out for Heda and other vulnerable children in the community to make sure they are safe.
Day by day, year by year, these sessions and the many other programmes that child sponsors support in Heda’s community are changing the way that children, faith leaders, parents and others in the community look at children and understand their rights, helping them see that that girls and boys, and kids of all abilities, are equal, precious and deserve to be protected. Changing social norms takes time. But together, we are changing the world that Heda lives in.
“Without sponsors, we could not do this kind of work,” says Naysa. “We are trying to change existing values, and that's why it takes so long to see change. But with sponsors’ support, we can now see some children … have the courage to speak out.”
Right now, girls all over the world are being forced into violent realities like child marriage, child labour, and abuse.
You can fight for the rights of a girl like Heda