Friday, December 19, 2014

Reaching the furthest villages to #ENDviolence against children

Avisay, third from left, and her team
(c) UNICEF/LAOS/2014/Nomoto
Avisay Sithiyom, 31 years old, works for the Lao Government’s National Commission for Mothers and Children and she is leading one of 13 UNICEF-trained survey teams in Laos to gather data on violence against children over a five to six week period.

About the same size as the United Kingdom but with only one tenth of the population, Laos has many small villages in hard-to-reach areas, making gathering information very difficult. Avisay and her team have been travelling to villages to interview children and young people about violence – a process that was far more adventurous than she ever imagined.

“We have had many adventures along the way. We often stayed at remote villages without sanitation facilities or electricity. For the first time, we washed ourselves in the river,” said Avisay.

As part of the global #ENDviolence campaign, the Lao Government with UNICEF’s support is leading a national prevalence study on the different forms of violence against children in Lao PDR. The study will provide, for the first time, national data on violence against children.

The information they and other teams have gathered will be used to help Lao PDR design, implement and evaluate programmes to prevent and respond to violence against children.

“We went to very remote areas to complete the survey. One time, we took a ferry and walked long hours. Roads were very rough and we got lost several times in the forest,” said Avisay.

“When we finally got to the village, it was challenging to communicate with villagers since they were from an ethnic minority and speak different language from us. We also found that children often do not know what violence is. They may not think certain acts are violence because they have become part of their culture.”

The different forms of violence
Violence against children refers to all forms of harm, including physical, sexual and emotional violence. In a recent survey, around 75 per cent of children aged 2-14 were found to have experienced some form of violent discipline by an adult in their home.

“A majority of cases we found during the survey was emotional violence. We identified few physical violence. All of them happened within the family,” added Avisay.

Not only will the results of the survey be used to inform programmes to help prevent and respond to violence against children, it has also helped build the skills and knowledge of key government staff who will be at the forefront of this work.

“It is my first time to go to hard-to-reach areas. The survey has helped me to understand the real situation of local people,” said one of Avisay’s team members.
Access to many villages was a challenge
(c) Photo: Avisay Sithiyom

For many teams it was an eye-opening experience.

Phengphachanh Phothisan, 30 years old, who works for the Lao Statistics Bureau, led a team in Champasack province and recalled how they had to walk four hours to a village that had no electricity or toilets.

“Since many households were vacant during the day because they work in the rice fields, we had to wait for them to come back in the evening to complete the survey. It was an unexpected experience,” said Phengphachanh, whose team members spent two nights sleeping in the village temple in order to complete the survey.

The survey teams underwent a one-month intensive training provided by UNICEF and the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. “I especially enjoyed the training on how to use a netbook to fill in the data. Now I understand how to input data electronically and will be able to use the skills in other projects in the future,” said Phengphachanh.

Leading the way to #ENDviolence
Phengphachanh, centre, and her team are travelling to remote villages
(c) UNICEF/LAOS/2014/Nomoto
Phengphachanh is also learning how to be a team leader for the first time: “It was challenging for me at first to manage the team until they fully understood the survey procedure. I closely communicated with them to check if they were conducting the survey properly and asked if they faced any difficulties in the process. Being a team leader requires a lot of management and negotiation skills. Now, all the team members are doing great job.”

“I am honoured to be selected as one of the survey team leaders and happy to be a part of this survey to end violence against children in Lao PDR,” smiled Phengphachanh.

“These hard-working, dedicated teams are collecting the information that is invaluable to help inform Government decisions and actions on ending violence against children,” says Rui Nomoto, child protection officer for UNICEF Lao PDR.

“With this new data, for the first time we’ll get an insight into attitudes towards violence and how often it occurs. Then we can use the results to make plans that will help combat violence against children. A survey sounds simple but, as we’ve seen, reaching out to the most vulnerable is a major challenge in Lao PDR, but it’s imperative we do this to ensure all children get the protection they deserve.”

Following analysis of the data and completion of the draft research report, Government counterparts, with UNICEF’s support, will organize national consultations with key stakeholders and other interested agencies and organizations to discuss the findings. The feedback from this consultation will be incorporated into the final country report and will provide the basis for the development of national advocacy campaigns, as well as national and local government action planning.

By Rui Nomoto, Child Protection Officer

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