Friday, 20 June 2014

Children in Makassar speak out on violence

by Lauren Rumble, Chief, Child Protection, UNICEF Indonesia

Michelin is 17 years old and is the President of the Child Forum in Makassar. I met her in May this year on my first visit to Makassar, along with other leaders of the Forum, and I asked them about their opinions on violence against children in the city.

She believes that violence against children, especially child trafficking and sexual violence against children living and working on the streets are major concerns for Makassar’s children.

“Not enough is being done about these issues,” she says.

The Child Forum was set up by UNICEF and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection to give children the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting their lives.

Michelin thinks that too often, children believe they have to work, that it’s their job to support their families, when in fact they should be learning and playing. Sexual violence in particular is a real problem for these and other children at risk, she says, because there is nobody to protect them from violent adults. And there are few active health and legal services for child survivors in Makassar; making it difficult for children in rural areas especially to get the help they need.

“We know rape happens, but nobody talks about it because it’s a taboo. But it’s not just a taboo, it’s our reality,” she says.

From left to right: Treatment, Auzain and Michelin from the Makassar Child Forum.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Lauren Rumble

Michelin believes there’s only one way to help poor children and families that send their children to work, allowing them to be exposed to abuse. She thinks the government should promote positive parenting practices and spread knowledge and information about child rights in local villages and communities.

But, she stresses, communicating this information needs to be done in a way that’s designed by children, for children. Otherwise campaigns are too complicated and the children they are intended for don’t understand their messages.

Treatment, also 17 years old and at the same school as Michelin, agrees.

“I wish the government and UNICEF could start a campaign tackling violence against children that works child-to-child,” he says.

“This means that children carry messages of peace and support to each other, helping each other and teaching each other what to do if they are at risk of violence.”

Auzain, his friend in the Child Forum, thinks the government ought to do something about youth violence in Makassar as well.

“Far too many boys my age are scared in the streets that a gang of youth will beat them with arrows, stones and knives. Violent fighting amongst boys as young as 13 years is regularly reported in the media but nobody does anything,” he says.

The children believe that government should take urgent action to prevent and respond to violence against children, in all its forms.

They want the school curriculum to include messages about where and how children can report violence. They want support within the community for child victims of violence, including immediate access to health services, and family support to prevent children seeking work in unsafe conditions.

They want the government to make children a priority when it comes to the national budget. “The government has a lot of money, but it’s not theirs actually,” says Auzain. “It is being borrowed from us, the children.”

Most importantly, say Michelin, Treatment and Auzain, is the need for parents to spend more time with their children.

“I wish parents could just spend a little time loving and playing with their children every day. Children’s number one priority is affection, but many times they are just invisible,” they say.

They might be right. Globally, support for families that promotes child safety and well-being is increasingly being recognised as a successful strategy in preventing violence against children. 

UNICEF around the world, including in Indonesia, is working to support Governments and other partners to design culturally appropriate programmes that help parents to strengthen their relationship with their children and manage children’s behaviour in a positive way.

Early investment in protecting children from violence helps children grow up safe and healthy. It is also a smart investment for future economic growth. Violence, particularly sexual violence and abuse has a long lasting impact for all children who become victims of such crimes.  Violence also puts a hefty social and financial burden to the family, community and the nation. Preventing violence therefore is a critical investment for Governments in their country’s future.

In Makassar, UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia are working closely with schools, Islamic religious leaders and social workers to roll out dedicated training materials that focus on non-violent strategies for raising children at home, at school and in the communities.

The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection is simultaneously investing in toll-free hotlines for children to report violence and abuse cases at provincial and district levels and accompanying integrated services for survivors of violence to receive counselling and care.

But there is still much to be done. Violence is indeed a daily reality for far too many children in Indonesia, as the country’s first ever violence against children survey led by the Government will soon reveal. Few survivors seek the often life-saving support they deserve. And all too frequently, like in Makassar, the government budget available for child protection work is limited and does not match the scale of need. 

I look forward to visiting Makassar again, after the new Strategic Plan for the Government (RPJMN 2015-2019) is adopted; hoping that child protection is a priority for all. This means survivor services are available in every district, laws protecting children are enforced and community-based efforts to stop violence against children are fully funded -  just as Michelin and her peers have advised. 

The Child Forum in Makassar is optimistic that this is possible. So am I.