|Vera, nine, sits on steps outside the entrance of a children’s shelter in Banda Aceh. The UNICEF-supported shelter, which opened in 2007, currently serves approximately 120 children who have been orphaned, abandoned or sexually assaulted.|
By Rob McBride
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 28 December 2009 – In the playing fields at the Darusada Children’s Centre, a sense of calm provides a stark contrast to what these children have endured. All the residents here have suffered from the recent conflict in Aceh, the trauma of the tsunami or have been rescued from family violence.
Walking quietly with her caregiver, Vera, age nine, falls into this latter category.
“My mother and father were fighting all the time, and I didn’t want to watch that anymore,” said Vera, referring to life at home from which she has just been taken into care.
The UNICEF-supported shelter, which opened in 2007, currently serves approximately 120 children who have been orphaned, abandoned or sexually assaulted.
Changes in the system
Although juvenile justice existed in Indonesia before the tsunami, changes in child protection were adopted after the tsunami.
At the court house in Banda Aceh, a juvenile court has been added, presided over by a judge given special training by UNICEF.
“Since the tsunami, a number of us have received special training and that’s made a big difference in implementing juvenile justice properly,” said a Judge Rahmawati of the new court.
A great need
Of all the areas affected around the Indian Ocean, Indonesia has a great need for child protection measures due to the sheer numbers of orphaned and vulnerable children.
“Many children were separated from their parents or had lost their parents,” said UNICEF’s Country Representative in Indonesia Angela Kearney. “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.
Recently, 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,” said Head of the Child Protection Unit Elfiana Ibu, a police veteran of 20 years who was trained by UNICEF to help children who have been exploited or abused.
With integrated facilities offering medical and legal assistance, victims have been encouraged to come forward, where previously their suffering might have gone unnoticed.
Back in the peaceful grounds of the Darusada Children’s Shelter, Coordinator Rossmawati Burhan can reflect on the achievements made in recent years.
|Boys play volleyball at the children’s shelter in Banda Aceh. While some of the children at the shelter were orphaned by the tsunami, some 80 per cent have been orphaned by long-standing conflict in the province.|
“We now have special programmes for victims of rape, domestic violence, as well as children abandoned by their parents,” said Ms. Burhan. “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 said 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.