Last week, we had the Child Protection seminar which is definitely a subject no one ever really wants to think about, but if you are working with children, then it is something that needs to at least be in the back of your mind always... this world is not a good place, and until we are eternally with the Father in Heaven, the darkness that covers this earth will be there, unfortunately.
This past weekend, we were about to have a nice quiet Sunday afternoon, when one of the families in the Child Sponsorship project called Ljilja (my colleague and housemate) to ask her advice. Their oldest daughter (15) had left on Friday morning, without their permission, and she had sent an sms to them to say that she was going to belly dance with a group of girls in Tuzla and would be back on Sunday. She was part of a belly dancing class in Banja Luka, so they thought she was probably with them competing and didn't worry too much until they couldn't get a hold of her or the girl she was supposed to be with... so now they were wondering if we knew where she could be...
Thankfully, Ljilja managed to contact some people who teach belly dancing in Banja Luka and as they all know each other, so were quickly able to establish that no group of dancers had gone to compete or dance in Tuzla. I then suggested that we contact friends in Tuzla to find out if they knew of any dance competition going on there, and that is when we figured out what was probably going on... there was a "vashar" or a kind of "fair" this weekend near Tuzla where people eat and drink and dance, etc in tents. The girls would have probably gone to dance on the tables to earn money. Now, remember she is 15!!
The father wanted immediately to go to Tuzla and find her, but in our training (and now in making a policy!) one of the things to do if you think a child is possibly in danger or being exploited is not to go charging in there, but to report it to the authorities as soon as possible... so Ljilja went with the family to the police to report the whole situation.
PTL, the girl returned home safely on Monday morning and because the police are now involved, the people whom she went with are being investigated! They took other underage girls with them, but the rest were from the high school boarding house in Banja Luka, so that is why no other parents were worried...
The worst part of the whole story is there was a terrible car accident involving people from the vashar (4 died) which was reported on the TV Sunday night, so of course her parents phoned Ljilja worrying that she was involved in that... but luckily I was able to find out online that the people were already identified and reassure then that it wasn't her... But any 15-year-olds out there reading this, remember that your parents love you and even if you fight with them, it isn't worth getting them in a state of complete turmoil while you run off and do your own thing!
And the end result is that the father was thanking Ljilja for making him do the right thing and tell the police instead of going to the vashar and trying to find her, and who knows what would have happened then... so it was a good thing we put into practice what we learnt last week!