Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Marta Santos Pais calls on Indonesia to become a champion to end violence against children

- By Devi Asmarani -

Marta Santos Pais (middle row, fifth from the right) together with representatives of several youth networks in Indonesia. 

Jakarta, 3 March 2015 - The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais has urged Indonesia to take on a leading role in the region in the fight to end violence against children.

During a weeklong visit to Jakarta from 23 to 28 February, Ms. Santos Pais observed that the country has already taken considerable steps to prevent and eliminate violence against children. However, a lot more needed to be done to make the efforts more effective, she said, after her meetings with Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentarians, representatives of the civil society, UNICEF and other UN agencies.

“My visit has given me a sense that Indonesia is ready for more. In my meetings with different members of a government I have felt a very strong willingness to address this issue.”

In the course of her visit, Ms. Santos Pais met with Minister for National Development Planning Andrinof Chaniago, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, Minister for Women Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Yembise, and Parliamentarian Ledia Hanifa. She also met with civil society organizations and youth groups, and gave a lecture at the University of Indonesia.

She appealed to the government to finalize a National Strategy and an Action Plan on violence against children to further improve legislation and better coordinate intergovernmental coordination to prevent violence against children so it can be implemented at all levels from national down to village administration. “In this way, Indonesia will join 90 countries across the globe that already have such dedicated strategies and national action plans in place,” Ms. Santos Pais said.

No nationwide data on violence against children is available in Indonesia. A number of studies however have shown that many children are exposed to violence. According to the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) from 2007, for instance, around 40 per cent of students aged 13-15 reported having been physically attacked by peers in the preceding 12 months at school, one of the highest reported rates in the world.

Half of all children surveyed reported bullying at school, while 56 per cent of boys and 29 per cent of girls in institutions – including orphanages, rehabilitation centres, boarding schools and correctional institutions – reported to have experienced physical abuse. Only few of the children who become victims of abuse however seek professional help.

The country has a number of laws in place that address violence against children and women, such as the Child Protection Law (2002) and the Law on Juvenile Justice, which came into force in 2014, raising the minimum age for criminal liability of children from 8 to 12 years, which already resulted in hundreds of children being released from Indonesian prisons. The National Medium Term Development Plan (2015-2019) or RPJMN has also made protection of children from violence a priority.

However, Ms. Santos Pais noted that Indonesia still lacks a clear ban on all forms of violence, including corporal punishment at home, which is often still perceived as a legitimate form of disciplining children. Indonesia should join 45 other countries whose legislation already includes a complete prohibition of violence against children in all forms and settings, she added.

“But changing the law is not enough. Legislation is not a magic wand, because we are also struggling with an attitude in society that legitimizes the use of violence,” she said. “We should turn such social norms into an attitude which says: We must protect children from ill treatments,” she added.

Ms. Santos Pais recommended that Indonesia should initiate a nationwide public debate on violence against children, citing lessons learned from other countries. For example, when Sweden became the first country to outlaw violence against children in 1979, this step was accompanied by intensive discussion across the country to raise awareness and facilitate the understanding among families and communities of the negative impact of violence against children and how it can be prevented.

Ms. Santos Pais highlighted the crucial role of religious leaders when it comes to disseminating information on the harms of violence and other related child protection problems like early marriage.

In Indonesia, every year around 500,000 girls marry before their 18th birthday. When marrying early, girls usually drop out of school and many become pregnant at an early age, which massively increases their risk of dying due to birth complications.

“In many countries girls who get married early often also become victims of sexual abuse within the marriage,” she said, adding the government should raise the minimum age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18 years.

An effective effort against violence must involve the participation of young people who will be affected by the situation, she added. During her visit, Ms. Santos Pais also met with a number of youth networks including the anti-bullying group Sudah Dong, the Alliance of Independent Teenagers, the National Youth Forum, and Sinergi Muda. She also engaged with the Coalition 18+, which advocates for raising the legal age of girls for marriage.

In all her meetings, Ms. Santos Pais also expressed hopes that Indonesia would be a champion for eliminating violence against children in the context of the Post-2015 discussion around the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The draft SDGs include a number of targets aimed at eliminating violence against girls and boys, including harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Marta Santos Pais was appointed first Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children in September 2009. With more than 30 years of experience on human rights issues, and engagement in United Nations and intergovernmental processes, she promotes the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against children in the justice system, in the home, in alternative care, in schools and in the community. Before her appointment, Ms. Santos Pais was the Director of the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.