More than a year ago, a bright-eyed and slender nine-year-old girl named Malee* was offered refuge at Keep Girls Safe (KGS), a shelter in the rural district of Chiang Rai, run by ADRA in Thailand.
“Her mom didn’t want her and local villagers couldn’t keep her,” said Sunita, KGS project coordinator who recalled Malee’s first day.
Prior to KGS, Malee’s life was hard and unsettling. Her mother had no money and no home in which to live. To ensure her survival, Maleeʼs mother resorted to prostitution. Malee was born and grew up with her mother living back and forth between the slums of Phuket and Chiang Rai.
“When Malee and her mother moved in with a guy, he was disgusted by Malee and demanded she be kicked out. Maleeʼs mother would leave her daughter outside, even in the rain. She developed a habit of wetting the bed and was beaten and scolded for something she had no control over,” said Titi, the social worker.
When Maleeʼs mother was pregnant again, she asked an older couple in a local village to take care of Malee. She promised to send them money to care for Malee but was not heard from again. The older couple had seven children and did not have enough food to feed everyone. At times, Malee was left to fend for food in trash cans, steal food from the temple sacrifices, or beg.
Realizing Malee’s misfortune, the village leaders tried to find foster families for her. Meanwhile, she became friends with a boy whose father was an alcoholic and drug addict.
“The more times she spent with the boy the more bad habits she picked up,” said the social worker. “She often looked dirty and smelled, and after living with four families in a few short months, no one wanted to keep her.”
Girls like Malee without anyone to care for them or anyone to miss them if they disappeared are particularly vulnerable to human traffickers. It had happened to other unfortunate girls in Malee’s village.
“The village leaders got in touch with KGS and pleaded for Malee to be taken,” Sunita recalled.
When she first arrived, Malee acted out and would hit staff and other girls at the shelter. She wouldn’t take baths and refused to clean her room. She also kept dead bugs in her drawers and allowed them to rot and smell. When it rained heavily, Malee would scream and cry because of what her mother did to her.
While Malee may have found shelter with the Keep Girls Safe staff, her journey to healing is far from over. Malee’s life is still uncertain and far from easy. While many other girls in the shelter receive visits from their families, Malee remains alone. Her mother never visits or calls.
No girl deserves to go through what Malee has. Malee deserves to know that her future will be better than her past.
*Malee’s name has been changed for her protection