SINGAPORE- Although they were aged only eight and nine, Rita and Alfred (not their real names) received no care or supervision and were expected to do all their family's household chores, as well as look after their four younger siblings.
They loitered in the neighbourhood to beg for food and money and were caned, slapped and hit with a belt by their father - who even threw dumbbells and padlocks at them.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development was alerted to their case last year and the family was referred to Safe Space, a child protection specialist centre. Today they are one of the families benefiting from its support and services.
On Tuesday (March 20), Safe Space was officially opened. It is the third child protection specialist centre set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development(MSF) and is run by Pave, a family specialist centre.
The other two centres are Big Love run by Montfort Care and Heart @ Fei Yue run by Fei Yue Community Services.
Alfred and Rita's case is not an isolated one. Last year social workers helped 997 clients with family violence issues.
Safe Space helps children under 16 who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence. It handles "moderate risk" child abuses cases referred by the Child Protective Services of the MSF and the public.
The centre began its operations on January 3 last year and moved into Yishun Central early this year.
Over the past year, Safe Space has dealt with 128 cases and about 239 enquiries.
Children are referred there by the MSF's Child Protective Services, the Family Justice Courts, as well as by relatives and members of the community.
Gracing the opening ceremony was President Halimah Yacob who said that young children who are witnesses or victims of violence find it difficult to articulate what happened to them or identify who was responsible.
"The families of these children also face multiple stressors such as unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues and matrimonial difficulties. More often than not, they lack the support of an extended family and other social networks that most of us are blessed with," she said.
"Family violence is an issue that cuts across racial, religious and socio-economic lines. When all of us put children's safety and welfare first, and when we all work together, great change can happen for the most vulnerable children."
Safe Space staff work closely with government organisations such as the Child Protective Service, the health system, schools, the police, legal aid, the social service system and community organisations.
Pave is Singapore's pioneer family violence specialist centre. It began as a programme initiated in 1999 by three social workers who felt that family violence needed closer attention.
President of Pave, Mr Michael Gray, said: "If children have a Safe Space to have their voices heard and their feelings acknowledged, we offer them a different life journey - one that hopefully will allow them to enjoy their childhood and move on."
Correction note: An earlier version of this story spelt Heart @ Fei Yue incorrectly. We are sorry for the error.