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Standing up for children’s rights in Banjar Negara

Sophia: The car swings around the windy uphill road, local men with red flashlights wave us across single-lane bridges, the driver flashes the high beam lights to let other drivers know we’re overtaking them. We’re on our way to Banjar Negara, a regency in the south west of Central Java. This weekend (4 and 5 June 2016), Mitra Wacana is running children’s rights workshops for 43 children in class six (the final year of primary school in Indonesia; they’re aged 12 and 13 years old). The children live in Berta and Karangjati villages in Susukan subdistrict and Bondolharjo and Petuguran villages in Punggelan subdistrict.

Life is not easy in these areas. Some of the children from Susukan subdistrict have to travel through hilly landscape every day to get to school. They drive themselves on motorcycles, as their parents have to work. Many of the children here do not finish high school because their families need them to start earning money. They move to the city to find work, with little knowledge of their rights or the risk of exploitation. This is the reason Mitra Wacana decided to start educating children in these villages about their rights in primary school. This is the first time we have run children’s rights workshops with such a young audience.

We invited Mr Suranto and Mr Arif Winarto from Yayasan Sekretariat Anak Merdeka Indonesia (Samin or Independent Children’s Secretariat Indonesia Foundation) to facilitate the workshops. On the first day, I join Mr Suranto in Punggelan subdistrict. To start with, showing Mitra Wacana’s strong commitment to child protection principles, we ask the children if they agree to participate in the workshop and to be photographed and filmed. They all agreed and sign letters stating so. This is in addition to the permission already provided by their parents.

Mr Suranto introduces some key concepts about children’s rights. Firstly, that “children” are defined as anyone under the age of 18 years old. He uses pictures symbolising different religions and Indonesian ethnicities to illustrate the point that all children have the same rights regardless of race or religion. He asks the children what they want to be when they grow up. The children draw themselves as teachers, doctors, traders, soldiers and soccer (football) players. He also gets them to draw what they think their rights are. They draw things such as healthy food, access to health care, sleep, play and affection.

Mr Suranto introduces the four principles of children’s rights:
1. Kesamaan, the same rights for all children.
2. Yang terbaik bagi anak, what’s best for the child.
3. Tumbuh kembang, growth and development.
4. Pendapat anak harus dihargai, the child’s opinion must be respected.

These concepts are a little tricky for 12 and 13 year olds to grasp. We use a mixture of songs, games and drawing to help the children understand and make it fun. Being our first workshops of this kind, we know we still have more to learn about teaching children of this age. It’s a challenge, but it’s important and necessary work. Baseline research conducted by Mitra Wacana in late 2013 showed a high prevalence of sexual violence against children in this region. As part of this weekend’s workshops, we teach the children about the zone terlarang, forbidden zone. This includes their mouth, chest, genitals and bottom. No one can touch them in their forbidden zone and if they do, they must tell someone. Later on in the workshops, we discuss issues such as gender roles. Mr Suranto tells me some of the children were excited to learn that men can cook and women can be the main income earner for their family if they want to.

On the second day I join Mr Arif Winarto in Susukan subdistrict. This workshop is held at the Berta village hall, a traditional joglo building with a peaked roof and no walls. I enjoy the cool breezes that occasionally break through the heavy humidity. Berta is in one of the hills beyond which lies the Pacific Ocean. The children’s commitment is impressive. Not only had they stayed after their usual class on Saturday, they came back on Sunday to finish the workshop. Today the children are asked to illustrate their cita cita, their goals for the future. Their goals reflect the needs of the community. Some of them dream of finishing high school, some of them want a library in their village and others hope for better roads in their region. The knowledge and skills Mitra Wacana is teaching these children and their communities will hopefully help them realise their dreams.

Visiting Banjar Negara and seeing the grass-roots work Mitra Wacana is doing there makes me feel extremely proud and privileged to work for an organisation that is having such a positive impact on such a deserving community. I can’t wait to go back. -SD

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