Making sure the children are safe

Not learning much: Young inmates gather in their cell at Serang prison in Banten on Wednesday. The nation’s jails or child detention centers do not work as correctional or reform institutions , but rather transform underage inmates into hardened criminals. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)

Reported violence against children increases every year, although it is not clear whether organizations advocating children encourage victims to report their cases. Some of the incidents involve child perpetrators, and some are constant victims of abusive elders. Of the children who manage to get help, who takes care of them? The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini reports on the issue.

Sixteen-year-old W wears her hair in a ponytail with thick bangs. Her face is round with soft edges, revealing her youth. While other girls were studying hard at school or just busy being teens, for years W had to work far away from home as a nanny to other people’s children.

A child looking after children, W is a victim of child trafficking. She said she only finished fifth grade and was immediately sent from her home in Malang to work in Batam, a short ferry ride from Singapore.

“I looked after a 6-year-old and a 5-year-old,” she said. She never saw any of her earnings as all her money was remitted directly to her parents.

W now stays at the Social Affairs Ministry’s Bambu Apus Safe House (RPSA), a shelter for children who are in need of protection, in East Jakarta.

Out of earshot of W, Hasrifah, the head of Bambu Apus Safe House, told The Jakarta Post that they were looking for a boarding school for W as she would not be safe from being trafficked again if she returned to her family.

Often, parents of the children are part of the trafficking. Hasrifah said that W’s mother was part of the problem. “W seems to be between knowing and not knowing that her mother worked with the traffickers,” she said.

Under the Constitution, the government is responsible for caring for neglected children. Many Indonesians know by heart Article 34 (1) of the 1945 Constitution: the State takes care of the poor and neglected children. Protection for children is further reinforced in the 2002 law on child protection and the recently passed 2012 law on the juvenile justice system.

Indonesia has made progress in the legal protection of children since the passing of the 2002 Child Protection Law. The Bambu Apus Safe House was established under a 2002 joint-ministerial decree by the Social Affairs Ministry, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry and the National Police to provide a safe house, a trauma center and a recovery center.

The safe house, opened in 2004, shelters children who are victims of abuse, trafficked, facing the law, abandoned or separated from their families. Twenty-five similar shelters are modeled on this safe house and are spread across the country.

The recently passed 2012 law on the juvenile justice system, for example, includes protection for child victims and child witnesses.

“This is progress because the previous 1997 law on the juvenile court did not mention child victims and child witnesses,” the Social Affairs Ministry’s subdivision head in charge of children facing the law, Puti Hairida, said.

But, it is not only progress in protection for child victims and witnesses. While previously in the 1997 law on juvenile courts children as young as 8 years old could be legally processed for criminal offenses, the new 2012 law on the juvenile justice system increases the age limit to 12. It also stipulates that children below 14 years of age cannot be detained. Furthermore, under the 2012 law, the status of children of the state will be eliminated.

The 2012 law on the juvenile justice system also prioritizes restorative justice rather than criminal punishment for child offenders. MA and BS, who both have committed violence, currently stay at the Marsudi Putra Handayani Social Center in East Jakarta. The two are examples of when children are given restorative justice instead of criminal punishment.

Standing tall, MA, 13, would almost reach the shoulder of a 6-foot adult man. His petite frame and soft voice belies the life that he has lived.

On Feb. 16, MA stabbed his school friend Sonny (not his real name), 12, after a quarrel over a cellular phone. Sonny had alleged that MA had stolen his phone. MA then assaulted Sonny on their way to school in a housing complex in Cinere, Depok. “I was consumed with anger, I brought a knife from home and stabbed him,” MA said. Sonny survived after a security guard found him in a gutter.

MA said that according to police records, he stabbed Sonny 19 times. “I didn’t realize it at the time … my body was under the influence of the devil,” he said.

He now lives here with other child offenders. BS, 17, for example, is also serving time at the center. In June last year, he participated in a group assault in Matraman, Central Jakarta, that left one person dead and another three crippled.

Puti said that child offenders are in reality victims as well. “It is not their fault but that of surrounding elements: us adults,” she said.

According National Commission on Child’s Protection (Komnas PA) data, reported cases of violence against children increases every year.

In 2011, some 2,508 cases were reported, an increase from the 2,335 cases the previous year. The majority of victims are girls. Some 1,601 girls and 892 boys were victims of violence in 2011, an increase from 1.432 girls and 887 boys in 2010.

The Bambu Apus Safe House has sheltered more than 700 children since it opened in 2004. While the safe house provides shelter, counseling and case management for abused children, it does not provide a permanent home for them. Hasrifah said that they worked with a network of child foundations, NGOs, boarding schools and religious institutions to refer children for a permanent home until they reach the age of 18 or until they become independent.

For children whose parents are the perpetrators of abuse, the government searches for other ways for the children to be raised and taken care of without their parents. Hasrifah noted though that in Indonesia, the first solution was to still return the children to the family.

“There is nothing that can match family care. Even if a child is being cared for in a center that is luxurious compared to a family home, it is still better to be cared for by their family,” Hasrifah said. She said that in a center three carers can be responsible for 10 babies. “While in a family, one child can have undivided attention from its family,” Hasrifah said.

Hasrifah said that the center would locate a child’s parents and cooperate with village leaders to mediate between the parents and the child. If it is not possible for the child to return to their parents due to severe physical abuse and/or sexual abuse, the center looks for the next of kin of the child, such as the grandparents or aunt and uncle.

If returning to the family would not be beneficial to the child, then the center refers the child to a boarding school that works together with the Social Affairs Ministry.

A child’s search for help can come in different ways. At the Bambu Apus Safe House, children who are victims of abuse might arrive there escorted by the police or staff of a children’s NGO. Some might be so desperate that the children come by themselves on an ojek (motorcycle taxi) or in a cab.

When that happens, Hasrifah has to chip in with at Bambu Apus staff to pay for the ojek or taxi fare. “They [the children] would not have the money to pay the taxi fare, so we chip in to pay,” she said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Mon, December 03 2012

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