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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Protecting children’s legal rights in tsunami-affected Banda Aceh

© UNICEF HQ06-2001/Estey
Police Officer Elfiyana gets acquainted with local children in order to help victims of child abuse and youths who are in trouble with the law.

By Edith Johnson

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, December 2006 – When Officer Elfiyana lost both her husband and her child in the 2004 tsunami, the seemingly unbearable hardship didn’t stop her. Instead, it motivated her to do more to help others.

Now she is one of dozens of police officers who have received UNICEF-supported training on handling cases involving children. As Chief of the Women’s and Children’s Desk in Banda Aceh, Officer Elfiyana’s work is part of a broader initiative to look after vulnerable and troubled children in a province still struggling to recover from disaster. 

“I want to devote my life to my work,” says the 10-year police veteran.

A one-stop support centre

For serious cases that can’t be resolved by counselling or mediation, Officer Elfiyana refers victims to the newly created Integrated Service Centre – a one-stop crisis centre that offers medical treatment and emotional support to women and children. When necessary, staff at the centre also collect evidence to take a case to court for possible criminal charges.

Dr. Harjunois is a physician who works at the centre. “Once a child comes here, they can stay,” the doctor says. “There is privacy and space to play or sleep. Doctors, police or counsellors also come here to see the child. The children are treated with kindness and respect. The centre offers its services free of charge to all victims.”

Created by the Indonesian Government with support from UNICEF and other partners, the centre is the first of its kind in Banda Aceh. In order to reach more children with these vital services, UNICEF and partners are now working to set up similar centres in two other districts.

Child-friendly courts

During her patrolling duties, Officer Elfiyana sees a variety of problems concerning children, such as domestic violence and rape. But she also handles cases where children themselves are the offenders.

To help address these cases, child-friendly courts have been created. The courts are designed to ensure that the rights of children are protected, even when they get into trouble with the law.

“This special courtroom is important because it protects the child’s privacy. Sessions are closed to the public.” explains Judge Ramawati. “When we preside, the judges wear regular clothes. We create a less formal atmosphere, making it easier for the child to participate.” 

With respect to the law, the judges do what they can to help young offenders turn their lives around without handing down overly harsh sentences.

“In one case, we brought the child and the victim together in court. We had them consider each other’s situation and understand why it happened. Then they agreed to settle the issue out of court,” says Judge Ramawati.

In a region that is still dealing with the devastation caused by the tsunami, these child-friendly legal measures are vital in ensuring children receive the care and support they need.




December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on the child-friendly legal system in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
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