Raising Child's Rights Awareness: From District Initiative to National Recognition
When one of her friends invited Novi four years ago to join the Child Forum in her home town of Probolinggo in East Java, she was not aware that children had rights. But this changed quickly as the now 17-year-old girl became actively involved in the activities of the Child Forum, which are supported by LPA (Lembaga Pelrindungan Anak), the local child protection body, and UNICEF with the help of funding provided by the Italian National Committee. Novi learned that the cases of child abuse, early marriage or child labour that frequently occur in her community were not simply something children have to put up with, but a stark violation of their rights. When asked why she dedicates so much of her scarce free time after a long day at school to Child Forum activities, her eyes shine with enthusiasm as she explains: “I am also a child. And as children we should realize we have rights and spread this knowledge to others.”
One of Novi’s cousins, Dewi*, got married at the age of only fourteen. The two girls used to play together in the countryside, but married and already pregnant with her first baby Dewi could not join anymore in all the fun things they used to do together. “I felt like I had lost her”, Novi says. Back then, Novi did not know that a marriage at the age of only fourteen was a violation of child rights. It was only after having joined the Child Forum that she learned about this. In fact, although the legal minimum age for marriage is 16 years for girls and 19 years for boys, early marriage is one of the main problems facing children in East Java, where the tradition is still widespread, especially in villages. Novi explains that not only the early marriage itself is problematic: “It is the root cause for several other problems. When the children marry early, they have to drop out of school, don’t get proper education and are forced to engage in child labour to support their family. It frequently also leads to neglect of children as the very young mothers, who are still children themselves, are not yet capable of taking good care of their babies.” Encouraged by her father, with whom she discussed the issue, she decided to research the matter further. During her field work she talked to several concerned children and their parents. Especially the case of 14-year-old Bunga*, who frequently leaves her baby in the care of her mother to be able to play with her friends as other children do, convinced Novi that she wanted to advocate and fight against early marriage.
Supported by her teachers, Novi developed a paper based on her research. In “A child who owns a child” Novi not only describes the issue of early marriage, she also looks at the consequences and gives recommendations on how early marriage could be prevented. Impressed by Novi’s efforts, Mr Argus from the LPA recommended her for the National Young Leaders Award, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection and UNICEF, that was created to recognize the efforts of children in promoting child rights. To her big surprise, Novi was invited for an interview with the selection panel as a finalist. “I was very nervous and excited”, she remembers. But despite this, she did well and received the National Young Leaders Award in the category of gender. As Mr Usman Basuni, Assistant Deputy Minister for Child Participation, says: "Novi has shown her potential as a future leader. While other children of her age are only interested in having fun, she is concerned about her peers whose rights are violated.”
Novi’s parents, who have always supported her involvement in the Child Forum, are of course both very proud of her. They have framed Novi’s Award Certificate and display it in a place of honour in the family home. Her father hopes that she will continue her involvement and that in the future “Novi can contribute to the leadership in Probolinggo and Indonesia.” For them it is clear that none of their three daughters should get married before having finalized their education.
Also the headmaster of Novi’s school, Mr Rudi Hartono is full of praise for his pupil and says he is “very happy and proud that Novi has received the Award. She is a role model for her peers”. While none of his pupils dropped out of school to get married early, Mr Hartono is still convinced of the importance of advocacy against early marriage and has asked Novi to present her paper in front of all her school mates and teachers.
Novi also undertakes similar advocacy activities against early marriage with her friends from the Child Forum. Since Novi received the award, the group is even more motivated than before to fight for child rights. Winda, Atika, Agnes, Dea and Rofi even plan to participate in the next round of the Young Leaders Award themselves.
Despite her great achievement and success, Novi still is an unassuming and modest girl. She continues her voluntary work at the Child Forum, studies hard for her final exams at senior high school and hopes that in the future she will “have a job that leaves me enough time to promote child rights and contribute to eradicating early marriage”.