Leaving Abuse and Mistreatment Behind: Alaf Starts a New Life in the United States
Alaf* is a young girl of 12, originally from Afghanistan. In spite of her very young age, she has already lived through a number of terrible experiences, which seriously affected her health and wellbeing as well as her capacity to trust others.
During her childhood in Afghanistan, Alaf was abused not only by one of her male relatives but even by her own mother. Under a false pretext, a family member brought her to Pakistan, where she soon found herself completely alone. Alaf has only dim memories of that period of her life: “A mother cannot do to her child what she did to me”, Alaf said. “I don’t want to go back to Afghanistan for now, but one day I will return and ask my mother why she did this to me”.
In 2015, Alaf was taken in by a Pakistani private shelter. However, life didn’t get any easier for her. When an ICMC Child Protection Officer visited the shelter, she was found to be living in extremely bad conditions, mistreated and even physically abused by the wardens and the administrators because of her Afghan origins. “They used to treat me as if I wasn’t even human. I was forced to eat leftovers”, Alaf told the Child Protection Officer.
Considered to be a “child at risk”, Alaf had been referred to ICMC by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in order to make an assessment of her situation. ICMC staff with special expertise in dealing with victims of sexual and gender-based violence conducts home visits and interviews with children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families, in order to understand their care arrangement and their access to basic necessities – including food, education, and health care. Following the assessments, a panel of experts identifies a solution in the best interest of each child.
After meeting with Alaf, ICMC’s Child Protection Officer realized that the shelter was not a healthy environment for the girl and immediately recommended her for a transfer to ICMC’s Safe Home in Islamabad. Even after the transfer, however, Alaf continued to have serious problems trusting the staff due to the many abuses she had suffered. “It took me a lot of time to tell the ICMC Child Protection Officer about what had happened”, Alaf explained. “When she told me she was going to help me, I thought she was just lying. But the staff has always been very kind to me and I was much happier”.
While at the Safe Home, Alaf went through a procedure called “Best Interests Determination” and was finally approved by UNHCR for resettlement to the United States. In December 2016, she could finally board a plane which took her to a new beginning overseas. Speaking to the ICMC staff a few days before leaving, Alaf said she would love, one day, to become a teacher and work with unaccompanied refugee children just like herself.
*The child’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.