Five years on: strengthening protection of children in post-tsunami Banda Aceh
By Rob McBride
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, December 2009 - In the wide, open spaces and playing fields of the Darusada Children’s Centre, a sense of peace provides a stark contrast to the violence and trauma all of the young residents have endured.
In small groups they sit together and chat, or play games of soccer and volleyball, under the watchful eye of their social workers. All of the residents have suffered from the recent conflict in Aceh, the trauma of the 2004 tsunami or have been rescued from violent family break-ups.
Walking quietly with her care giver, Vera – aged just 9 years old – falls into this latter category. “My mother and father were fighting all the time, and I didn’t want to watch that anymore,” she says, referring to the home life from which she has just been taken into care.
That a system for child protection exists for cases like Vera’s is thanks in part to the changes adopted after the tsunami.
Of all the areas affected around the Indian Ocean, Indonesia faced probably the greatest need for child protection measures, given the sheer numbers of orphaned or separated children.
“Many children were separated from their parents, had lost their parents,” says Angela Kearney, UNICEF’s Country Representative in Indonesia. “One of the things first was to make sure that we brought families together, communities together.”
At the Bhayangkara Hospital in Banda Aceh, a special unit bringing together social workers and specially trained police officers has been set up to deal with child protection cases and investigate domestic violence. The unit has started to record important successes.
“After the tsunami a number of cases of women and children becoming victims of violence, came to light,” says Elfiana, the Head of the Child Protection Unit. With integrated facilities offering medical and legal assistance, victims have been encouraged to come forward, where previously their suffering might have gone unnoticed.
In protecting children’s rights, changes in the legal system have also been introduced. At the court house in Banda Aceh, a juvenile court has been added, presided over by a judge who has received special training supported by UNICEF.
Juvenile justice systems already existed in Indonesia long before the tsunami, but as Judge Rahmawati explains “Since the tsunami, a number of us have received special training and that’s made a big difference in implementing juvenile justice properly.”
“We now have special programmes for victims of rape, domestic violence, as well as children abandoned by their parents,” she says. “We are lucky in having the full support of the Government and the local community.”
Sitting nearby, Vera has simpler, personal goals. “I want to be able to continue at school,” she says in a quiet voice.
"Then go to study at college, and maybe one day I can go back home to my village again.”
In rebuilding after the tsunami, this part of Indonesia now has in place the kind of protective environment that is the right of children everywhere.