Seeking a safe space

Aug 24, 2017

Photo: RoLHR/UNDP

Safe Houses and other designated spaces—such as the ones established by the Government of Nepal and UNDP—are crucial in helping victims of violence recuperate, obtain legal assistance and start to mend their lives

There are few crimes that are as abhorrent and as sickening as that to do with a father who sexually abuses his own children. That, unfortunately, was the reality for two little girls—aged 10 and 13—presently taking shelter at a Safe House in Gulariya in Bardiya, who had discovered, to their horror, that the man vested with the responsibility to look after and protect them was the very one they needed protection against.

The eldest of the two recalls how it all started, promptly after their mother had run away with another man. Once the mother was out of the picture, the father had begun routinely raping the eldest—around 11 then—a nightmare that had endured for two long years. Eventually, the abuse was also extended to the younger daughter. The girls have another sibling, a younger brother, who was thankfully exempt from their father’s monstrous treatment.

As can be expected, it is painful for the children to remember all that happened—they are so traumatized as to be struck by terror even at the mention of their father. And there is no question of their returning home, tainted as it is by the terrible things they suffered in it. The Safe House, then, is the only place where they’ve managed to enjoy a bit of cautious security, and where they have been able to—if for a little while—regain some vestige of their lost childhoods.

“We’re free of mistreatment here. We can play, eat, watch television. We don’t have to be afraid,” the eldest one says. The more time she’s spent here, the more comfortable she’s slowly started to feel in her own skin. She’s also proved a voracious reader. “I’ve asked people to bring me more books.”

With them, the Safe House is also hosting a 15-year-old, who was brought here by mobilizers at the Socio-Legal Aid Center (S-LAC) in Bardiya, after she was raped and impregnated by a young man. The trauma of the assault and the burden of the pregnancy, now in its seventh month, has rendered her weak—both physically and mentally—and she usually sits by herself. Only recently, staff at the Safe House say, has she begun watching a bit of television.

The Chief of the Safe House, Laxmi Mudbhari, says the idea was to create a facility for those who had nowhere to turn to, who were at risk of abuse and violence, even in their own homes. “We provide accommodation for as long as 45 days, and have sleeping and eating arrangements, as well provisions of psychological counseling and treatment where necessary.” Once the 45 days have passed, the patients are sent to rehabilitation or other safe place.

The Safe House is run by the Nepal Government’s Women and Children Office and the Creative Women Development Saving and Credit Cooperative. And when there is need for legal assistance for the residents, or simply to refer victims of rape, assault or any other form of violence who need temporary shelter, S-LACs such as the one in Bardiya—set up by UNDP’s Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights Protection System in Nepal (RoLHR) Programme in several districts across Nepal—play a key role, offering their services for free.

Another similar initiative is the establishment of a “victim-friendly room” in the S-LAC office, which is furnished with minimum furniture, water, and toys and stationery for children. This kind of room has also been set up in the Office of the District Attorney.

“When you have people who are in dire need of legal services, these safe houses and designated spaces for victims can be very useful to give us the needed time and focus to initiate litigation processes on their behalf,” says the Legal Aid Officer at the S-LAC.

So far, around 46 such cases have been filed in courts with the joint efforts of the S-LAC and the Safe House, according to the center. 

With funding from the Embassies of Denmark, Norway and Finland, UNDP’s RoLHR has extended socio-legal aid services through S-LACs in 10 districts across Nepal

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