Efforts to protect children in Indonesia from abuse are obstructed by barriers to crime reporting, which may worsen with the threatened closure of police-run units that handle crimes against women and children.
Usman Basuni, assistant deputy minister for child participation at the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, told IRIN these specialized police units - known by their local acronym, PPA - are at risk of closing because crimes against women and children are rarely reported, which has led police to shift their resources elsewhere.
Last year, 12-year-old Riri* was sent from her village in Central Java to live with her uncle and aunt two provinces away, in Jakarta, the capital.
Over a period of four months, she was repeatedly raped by her uncle, who threatened to kill her and possess her with evil spirits if she reported the abuse. He then forced her to become a sex worker.
For two weeks, Riri was forced to charge US$21 per sexual encounter in East Jakarta, according to the head of the shelter where she is now recovering. After fleeing from her uncle’s house, she happened to rest mid-escape near the home of a local community leader, who brought her to the government-run shelter.
The extent of such abuses is unknown, Basuni said. Even if they are reported, they rarely make it up to the national level for recording.
Attitudes to abuse
According to the National Commission for the Protection of Children (Komnas PA), a child-rights NGO based in the capital, Jakarta, there were 2,637 reports of domestic abuse against children in 2012, up from 2,509 the previous year.
World Vision’s child protection specialist in Indonesia, Pitoyo Susanto, said child abuse is severely underreported, what he called an “iceberg phenomenon”, because of the public’s view of child abuse as something to be resolved in the home.
“People still believe it’s a private thing,” said Susanto. “If neighbours know what’s going on next door, they won’t intervene. Even in the cases that are reported, we see that the abuse has been going on for years.”
And should family members or survivors make a public claim, they risk being stigmatized, said Santi Kusumaningrum, co-director of the Centre on Child Protection at the University of Indonesia (UI).
“Families have been asked to move out of villages by the rest of the community, with schools even refusing to accept the child.”
In addition, Kusumaningrum said parents often turn to violence when disciplining their children. “The only way many parents know to deal with their children, if their child is misbehaving, is to hit them,” she said.
Influencing parent behaviours at the national level is near impossible, said the government’s Basuni.
“When the government says ‘don’t beat your child’, parents say it’s their business, and the number of people who think this way is huge,” he said. “The ministry doesn’t have enough resources to make 240 million people aware of this issue.”
A remote crime scene
Abuse can be reported at police-run units for women and children; there is one such unit in each of Indonesia’s 500 districts. Reports can also be made at hospitals and at the NGO-run Child Protection Institute, which has locations in each of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.
However, World Vision’s Susanto says many families live far from reporting centres and public service providers able to offer life-saving medical and psychological care.
“There’s a lack of access at village level,” he said. “We’re trying to improve this by training community volunteers to [triage] victims and their families, and help them report to police or service providers at the district level.”
The University of Indonesia’s Kusumaningrum said that despite laws protecting children - instituted in 2002 - and criminalizing domestic violence - instituted in 2004 - difficulties filing abuse claims and bringing cases to court have largely deterred reporting.
“When people report [at the village level], sometimes they need to finance transporting the evidence to district level [for investigations],” she said, adding that the police may face budgetary constraints in such cases. “It’s already emotionally difficult to report, but for poor families this cost makes it even harder.”
What to do?
Basuni said the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry is trying to change attitudes toward child-rearing.
“We’ll only solve this problem by going to its source and promoting good parenting skills, and through creating child-friendly cities,” said Basuni.
Sixty Indonesian cities are trying to achieve “child-friendly” status by meeting criteria tied to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which Indonesia has ratified. Cities must prove their commitment to fulfilling the UNCRC.
The ministry has also introduced an Indonesian Association of Child-Friendly Companies, with at least six major companies participating by agreeing to put children’s rights at the centre of their corporate social responsibility programmes.
But still largely unaddressed is why convictions for child abuse are so rare. This past February, an 18-year-old man was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for raping his girlfriend, a minor, but such successful prosecutions are an exception.
In local media, abuse victims, their families and supporters have spoken of threats and intimidation by friends, family members and even neighbours of alleged perpetrators, who have pressured witnesses to withdraw testimony mid-trial. Police have been called “sluggish” and “insensitive” in their investigations.
Police spokesman Senior Commander Rikwanto, who goes by one name, said child abuse cases were sometimes slow to reach trial because of difficulty establishing evidence of abuse.
“It’s necessary to convince witnesses to come forward, and make sure we have sufficient physical and scientific evidence of the abuse,” he said. “Sometimes this can slow the progress of cases down.”
In addition, the 2004 regional autonomy law transferred powers to local governments to handle basic services, including health, education, infrastructure and security. Basuni acknowledged child protection was a low priority for local government officials.
He added that he was trying increase the priority of children’s issues nationwide by meeting with and convincing district heads to promote children’s rights. While most of those consulted agree in theory, he said, they say their budgets are already overstretched.
*not real name