Free from domestic abuse, free from orphanages: Esmeralda’s story
For every two Covid deaths, one child becomes a #CovidOrphan. As countries plan their recovery from Covid, vulnerable children are being forgotten. At risk of exploitation, trafficking and life in an orphanage—they are at the bottom of everyone’s list. Except ours.
“I was forced to go. I had no choice”, Esmeralda says simply, remembering the night she left her husband, taking her six children and absolutely nothing else with her.
Her mother died when Esmeralda was very young and she spent part of her childhood living in an orphanage to escape her alcoholic father. She married as soon as she was old enough, hoping to find security. Her husband was kind to her at first, she says, but after their twin daughters were born, the beatings began. He refused to believe that the babies were his. Over the next six years, Esmeralda gave birth to three more daughters and a son, and the violence just got worse.
“I will never let my children go to an institution. I would rather die”
Eventually, fearing for her life, Esmeralda, took her children and fled to a refuge. With no family to support her, no income and no permanent place to live, she knew her children were in danger of being taken from her and left in an orphanage. But Esmeralda was absolutely determined not to let that happen. “I will never let my children go to an institution. I would rather die,” she told us then. “Even if the staff are kind, even if everything is clean and the children are fed, you are on our own and there is no love there.”
“When Esmeralda fled from her husband, all she had with her were the clothes she was wearing”
Our team in Bosnia & Herzegovina worked with Esmeralda and her children to rebuild their lives and keep their family together. Social worker Adnan Vrbanjac helped Esmeralda to find and furnish a small flat, register with a food bank and cover the cost of heat and electricity until she found her feet.
When Esmeralda fled from her husband, all she had with her were the clothes she was wearing and so, crucially, Adnan also supported her through the complicated process of obtaining new identity documents. Once she had these, Esmeralda was able to access social support for her children, register them for health care and make sure they could go to school.
“She had no money for public transport, no childcare, how could she do this with six small children to look after?”
“Officials sit behind desks and tell women in Esmeralda’s situation what they need to do: ‘go to this office, collect this form, fill it in, take it to this other office.’ But she had no money for public transport, no childcare. How could she do this with six small children to look after?” Adnan asks.
As well as practical support, our team also provided counselling for Esmeralda and her children, so they could begin to deal with the trauma they’d experienced.
“My children are my whole life. I will do whatever I have to, to keep them safe”
Today, the home that Esmeralda shares with her children is a happy, noisy place, despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Adnan is still a regular visitor. He has helped provide a laptop so the older girls can continue their education while the schools are closed. And with five big sisters to play with, baby Haris is a cheerful, confident little boy who is growing up fast.
“My children are my whole life. I will do whatever I have to, to keep them safe so that they don’t have to go through what I did,” Esmeralda says now. “It is hard to find the money for the rent, for food and electricity but no one can put a price on feeling safe,” she confirms with quiet conviction.
The need to protect children from orphanages has never been more pressing. Our Director of Global Programmes, Stefan Darabus, says,
“In over 25 years I have never known it so bad. Child protection systems run by local authorities are beyond capacity. Families struggling due to Covid are facing breakdown and family separation. Hidden problems like domestic abuse are being ignored.”
You can help keep vulnerable families like Esmerelda’s together by helping us provide essential support like emergency help with food, clothes and heating. With the basics taken care of, parents won’t have to surrender their children to orphanages in the hope they will eat this Christmas.
On average it costs just £45 to identify a vulnerable child or family at risk of separation.