The story of Malee*, a 14-year-old Burmese girl who was referred to the services of Child Helpline as a victim of abuse, illustrates the challenges that young people in the border area face, as well as the possibilities for more opportunities. Growing up in Myanmar (Burma), Malee attended primary school and had a safe living situation. All of that changed four years ago when both of her parents passed away and she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Mae Sai, Thailand.
Immediately, her education suffered; as an undocumented migrant, Malee was not eligible to attend Thai government schools. Unable to read or write in Thai language, she ended up working in a shop selling knick-knacks in the large market near the border. What started as emotional abuse through constant criticism by her family before long became physical abuse at the hands of her alcoholic uncle. Over time, the abuse escalated from slapping and pulling Malee’s hair into punching, kicking, and hitting her with broomsticks and pipes. In the final three months, the abuse escalated still further. Malee’s uncle started to touch her inappropriately after he had been drinking, and asked her to sleep outside on the porch together with him. Her aunt observed this sexual abuse, but did not intervene to help.
During the Buddhist New Year celebration in April 2010, her uncle appeared at her employer’s door drunk. He banged on the door dozens of times, threatened her employer, dragged Malee home, and gave her a severe beating. The next morning, he told her, “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” Malee was able to get to work and tell her boss what had happened. Her employer contacted the police, who referred her to the Child Helpline for assistance.
Child Helpline responded by providing for Malee’s short-and-long-term needs. She received medical care for her physical injuries and counseling for her psychological traumas. She was able to enroll in DEPDC’s Half Day School and resume her education, increasing her Thai language literacy and fluency, and to apply for legal status inThailand, providing her with access to services. Malee received safe shelter from Child Helpline while staff conducted family tracing to locate and screen Malee’s relatives for possible placement with them. In March 2011, after finding that there was no family member who could safely care for her, Malee joined her new home in the long-term DEPDC shelter, Mekong Regional Indigenous Child Rights Home (MRICRH).
In the future, Malee hopes to continue her education through high school, then work as a youth leader to help vulnerable children. For now, she enjoys spending time every evening studying Thai language and playing sports with her friends. She sleeps in her own bedroom, with DEPDC staff available in the next room throughout the night to assist Malee—or any other caller to the Child Help Line—at a moment’s notice.
* Name has been changed to protect the child’s anonymity.