International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: introducing Hagar International, Cambodia

In Cambodia, Southeast Asia, poverty rates remain consistently high and there is a prevalence of violence towards women and children.

Providing vital, holistic care to the survivors of gender-based violence and extreme human rights abuse is a charitable organisation called Hagar International, Cambodia.

The UK Aid Direct-funded charity addresses the stigma and shame so frequently felt by women and children who have been victims of sexual exploitation, violent rape, trafficking for labour and forced work, domestic violence and acid attacks.

Meet Bopha*, a child who was nine years of age when she was sexually abused by a man who broke into the family home.

“I was scared the day I arrived. I didn’t know anyone and I was still worried about strangers. But after a few days I realised I was in a safe place.”
“I was scared the day I arrived. I didn’t know anyone and I was still worried about strangers. But after a few days I realised I was in a safe place”.

Today, Bhopa is a bright, happy child who helps her mother around the house and loves to ride her bike to school with friends.

This is Bopha’s story:

Bopha’s father was an alcoholic and went out drinking with his friends one night. Bopha's grandmother was looking after her and her younger sister while their mother went out to find their father.

A man broke down the door and hit Bopha's grandmother, leaving her unable to call for help. Bopha was sexually abused by this man and as he left the house, he threw $5 onto her bed and threatened to hurt her more if she told anyone about what he had done.

Bopha was left hurt and in shock. When her parents came home, she told them of the abuse and they immediately went to the hospital and reported the abuse to the police. The authorities traced the abuser and he is now serving a 25-year sentence in the local prison.

During the year that followed, Bopha was transferred to Hagar and lived at Hagar’s Girls’ Recovery Centre.

“I was scared the day I arrived. I didn’t know anyone and I was still worried about strangers. But after a few days I realised I was in a safe place”.

Hagar’s Recovery Centre was a place of healing for Bopha.

She spent weekly sessions with her case manager and counsellor, who helped her to deal with what happened to her through trauma-informed care and art therapy.

In early March 2016, Bopha was able to reintegrate into her family home with close assistance from Hagar International.
Although the family home is located within a very small community where everyone knows each other, at her new school no one asks where Bopha has been; she is accepted and participates in class.

Her favourite outfit is still the Hagar school uniform she was provided with and her favourite toy remains enclosed inside its original wrapping, in a black bin bag.

"The truest happiness? Knowing my daughters are safe", said Bopha’s mother. “Life isn’t easy. I am always worrying … I worry that there could be more abuse in the future so I sleep next to them both, and my husband sleeps on the floor”.

In addition to recovery shelters, such as the one Bopha attended, Hagar International also offers:

  • legal support
  • education
  • employment programmes
  • health care
  • trauma counselling
  • transitional and reintegration support

They seek to build the capacity of clients and their families so that they can resolve challenges and crises more independently over time. They are linked with community resources and family supports to help strengthen their ‘safety nets’.

Delivering preventative training on gender-based violence and domestic violence to members of the community through community training sessions is also a critical part of Hagar's work. The teams work closely with village chiefs, officials and other key community members to arrange these sessions and they also provide support to children attending the discussions by offering child-friendly training on topics such as ‘Safe Touch’ and ‘Violence in the Home’.

Thank you to Hagar International, Cambodia for sharing their client’s story.

* Bopha is not the real name of the child in this story. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.