Catching Up with Science: A Reflection of the Work on Protecting Children from Violence in Indonesia
Written as part of the brief prepared for Dr. Najat M’jid, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SRSG/VAC)
It can be demotivating for someone like me, who has been working in child protection and wellbeing for over 20 years, to still hear about the lack of data on violence against children (VAC) in Indonesia. Reflecting on where we were a decade ago, I would say that data on VAC are much more available now than ever.
First, there are reports from studies that were explicitly designed to measure or examine VAC or ones that included VAC in their questions, albeit vary in quality. There are published systematic reviews that synthesized findings from existing reports on VAC. More and more, wherever is possible, we see studies undertook secondary analyses of Indonesia’s national data to calculate the prevalence of VAC (for example child marriage) and infer some correlations. There are also findings from the Global School-Based Health Survey (GSHS), the National Survey on Women’s Life Experiences (SPHPN), and the Men Experiences of Violence Against Women Study. Not to mention, program data and specific studies that looked at the system’s response to children’s risky behaviors like the juvenile justice system. From these sources, we can get essential insights about VAC in Indonesia, as long as these data are analyzed and utilized properly.
Second, GoI has implemented two national surveys to measure the prevalence of VAC in Indonesia, in 2013 and in 2018 named the National Survey on Children and Youths Life Experiences (SNPHAR). Both violence against children surveys (VACS) attempted to measure physical, emotional, and sexual violence against girls and boys, identify risk and protective factors, as well as the use of services and barriers to services, aimed to provide a better understanding of their magnitude, nature, and consequences of VAC. The 2013 VACS did not meet the necessary response rate and had some issues in the implementation of the protocol. But, there are published articles that discussed the lessons and how we can improve the next survey. Until this reflection is written, we are still waiting for the government to publish the complete SNPHAR 2018 report.
So, data is plenty but has yet to be able to capture all kinds of VAC comprehensively. Perhaps, in a context like Indonesia, what is needed is more localized situation analyses and rigorous implementation data, from where we can learn about the efficacy of interventions and evaluate the results. We also need to encourage open access to unidentifiable sectoral data, at least for government agencies like BPS (the Statistics Body) to do further analysis. Obviously, there is a need to implement an SOP on access to sensitive data like this. Moreover, we need to invest in ethical and disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, so programs and policies do not leave behind children at the greatest risk and run the possibility of masking exclusion of children from religious, sexual, and ethnic minorities, children in contact with the law, and children with special needs. Lastly, we need to invest in longitudinal studies to understand how childhood deprivation, including VAC, impacts children throughout their lifecycle until adulthood, and what makes them emerge from adversities.
In the past 20 years, I have also learned about the different interventions VAC partners have been implementing on the ground. With the current administration’s focus on Human Capital Excellence (“SDM Unggul”), we have an opportunity to argue for integrated programs that facilitate all children to thrive and be safe from harm. The question is how to do it effectively and cautiously so it’ll do good, not harm.
Existing data showed that poverty remains a significant threat to children’s wellbeing in Indonesia. I have seen analyses that demonstrate the correlation between poverty and child wellbeing deficiencies. However, poverty is not the only factor leading to child vulnerability. Deprivations in care and protection also negatively affect child wellbeing. Family separation, for example, threatens child wellbeing by increasing the risk of neglect, violence, and discrimination, and in the longer run, weakening a child’s ability to escape poverty in the future.
Unfortunately, poverty, social care, and protection have been understood as separate things and programs, therefore, have been implemented in a silo. While Indonesia has a child protection system, it lacks a systematic approach to identify and respond to children at risk and to promote a capable and stable environment for children. The government prioritizes cash transfers that offer liable support to the poorest households. Still, investments are often made with little consideration of child vulnerabilities aside from those related to health and education. When programs did consider care and protection, the approach was somewhat superficial (i.e. family development sessions with child rights material).
On the other side, family support programs have been simplified into parenting programs. Instead of facilitating vulnerable families with a support system in which access to basic services and positive parenting is available, the government and NGOs invest in teaching parents how to parent. More alarmingly, the notion of family-based care is now being used to promote the more conservative form of family. Now we hear priorities like strengthening the role of mothers in a child’s education. Without careful thinking and designing, this seemingly positive direction might turn Indonesia backward to the domestication of mothers and women.
So, the political momentum and the evidence are here. Perhaps our policy thinking needs to catch up with our science. We need to be able to design and implement programs and policies that adopt a universal approach (“for every child, with no discrimination”), while also recognize the different contexts and opportunities experienced by and available for vulnerable children. Instead of trying to ride on the existing anti-poverty programs, we need to work on the “three-prong inclusive approach” to child protection.
First, the Social Protection Support prong. Under this, we work to have frontline and community-based workers available and capable to help children access health, education, social protection, and legal identity, and to help their caregivers access financial services.
Second, the Family Support prong. Under this, we work to have frontline and community-based workers available and capable to help caregivers care for their children.
Third, the Child Protection Support prong. Under this, we work to have frontline and community-based workers available and capable to help children access specialized services, both to minimize their risks of harms and to respond to incidents of harm.
At the end of my reflection, I conclude that this field has been successful in strengthening the evidence and in using them to further our advocacy. We have made the case for VAC and created high-level policy attention. Policymakers are now convinced that VAC is harmful, happening, and human-made.
Now that the demand is there, we need to up our game in designing and implementing policies that work. This work is political and exists in a changing environment. We all have to be aware of the shifting social norms and sudden shocks that will disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals. In addition to climate-related disasters, we are facing emboldened religious conservatism, including in the policy arena. Situating VAC in policy conversations must simultaneously manage the risk of having it reduced to poverty-blaming, parenting-teaching, and excessive control over children’s agency.
After 20 years, I still believe that children are the right place to start and arguing for child rights must be done to make sure that they end exclusion, guard civil liberties, and sustain democracy.
Director of PUSKAPA