Protecting Children Against Domestic Violence in Papua
By Kate Eliza Rose
SORONG, 25 June, 2009 - Redempta and her colleagues from the St Augustinus Organization in Sorong, Papua, known by its Indonesian acronym YSA, are not scared of confronting difficult issues. Through their organization, they strive to raise community awareness and understanding of issues such as HIV and AIDS.
However, domestic violence, particularly violence directed at children, is something that they hadn’t dealt with specifically until recently. Their awareness and understanding of this issue has increased since they attended UNICEF’s training for strengthening child protection services. “We had heard about violence in the home, but we didn’t know about what ‘child protection’ involved. It’s not new, but we didn’t know how to address it.”
Violence within Papuan families is often seen as part of the culture. “People here hit children with their hands or even with wooden sticks and cables,” says Redempta. Often, children stay away from home to avoid violence. They stay out on the streets, only returning to wash and to change their clothes. “Sometimes they don’t even sleep at home. Then they often get into more trouble,” she says. “The child is always in the wrong. The parents never think it’s their fault.”
Keeping children safe at home is an integral part of UNICEF’s child protection programme in Sorong. After attending training, Redempta firmly believes that it is vital for people to understand that violence makes things worse. “When people strike out, others respond with anger too,” she said.
Laura*, who has been coming to meetings at YSA for some time, has witnessed violence at first hand. “People get so angry and emotional that they lose control of themselves,” she says. “Last year, my neighbour hit her child so badly he died. Then when she realized what she’d done, she picked him up into her arms and wept.”
Niken* has also been an active member of YSA since she first found out she was HIV positive. Recently, she became a coordinator for her area, helping to identify and monitor vulnerable families. She was invited to take part in the training with other social workers. Already, she feels much stronger and more able to talk to people about child protection.
Niken knew that the children who lived near her were often beaten. However, she didn’t realise she could do anything about it, other than to let them sleep at her house when it got bad. “One of my neighbours hit her 13-year-old son every day. He has five brothers and sisters. They were all beaten badly by their parents,” she says. Since the training, Niken feels able to speak out about child protection laws. “The next time I saw my neighbour’s boy being hit, I went straight over and asked his mother to stop. I told her that she mustn’t do it or I would have to report her. Now she’s scared of going to prison. She hasn’t hit him since.”