Meah used to keep her feelings to herself and rarely cried.
She also displayed aggressive attention-seeking behaviours and played violently with her friends. This is not uncommon for children who grew up exposed to verbal and physical violence from the people from whom they expected unconditional love and warmth.
When we first met five-year-old Meah* at the shelter in Phang Nga province in Thailand May 2015, her emotional development was different than other girls her age.
From an early age Meah witnessed her father inflict violence against her mother, and later Meah experienced abuse from her aunt. Unfortunately, her aunt was a young adult who didn’t know how to parent. To get Meah to listen or to “teach” her a lesson, she would hit and yell – abusing Meah verbally and physically. Her mother and aunt took her from their home in Myanmar with the intention of traveling to Malaysia, but were caught by Thai police and placed in government shelters and identified as trafficking victims. Shaken by the experience and weak from her journey, Meah soon realised that her mother had fled and left her with her aunt at the Surat Thani shelter. Meah was then shifted back and forth between the Surat Thani and the Phang Nga shelters.
There, Meah acted out in troubling ways. Noticing this worrisome behaviour, Save the Children worked with a child psychiatrist to perform a thorough assessment of Meah’s psychological state which revealed that her aggressive behaviour is a result of a lack of loving and dependable relationships with adults. Years of physical and mental abuse and her mother’s abandonment have imprinted a low sense of security for Meah, who is most familiar with violence as a form of expression.
Greater understanding of Meah’s behaviour, her needs, and the lack of stability and family in her life has helped Save the Children assess Meah’s physical, social, and psychological health, as well as identify the most appropriate solution and actions. Save the Children assessed the possibility of placing Meah back into her aunt’s care. During the assessment, her aunt displayed considerable regret for harming Meah and shared that she missed Meah very much.
It was decided that the best possibility for Meah’s well-being lies in reuniting her with her aunt under the close supervision and monitoring from the shelter staff and caretaker. In tackling issues of violence and corporal punishment, Save the Children worked to educate and support the aunt in understanding Meah’s special needs, and what her role would be in meeting them.
Last April, Meah was taken back to the Surat Thani shelter to be reunited with her only family member. Now, she is doing much better. Meah is attending kindergarten classes in the shelter and playing happily with friends, and her relationship with her aunt has greatly improved. Under SC’s supervision, her aunt has now embraced positive disciplining techniques and basic parenting skills.
Save the Children will continue to monitor and support both Meah and her aunt on a monthly basis to ensure Meah’s physical, social, and psychological needs are being met. They will help reinforce ongoing responsibilities in providing physical development, nursery enrolment, and relationship building for Meah.