Time to break the taboo

Time to break the taboo

Hong Kong students want to help protect children's rights after meeting ****-abuse victims

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The abuse victims' shelter in Jakarta
The abuse victims' shelter in Jakarta
Photos: Mabel Sieh/SCMP
A mother of twins stares blankly into space as she leans against a door. She refuses to look at her babies, or even hold them. She never wanted them. She is a mother because she was raped by her uncle. She is only 15.

Annisa (not her real name) is one of thousands of teenage victims of sexual abuse in Indonesia. She lives in a shelter in the nation's capital, Jakarta.

Unicef HK works with Annisa and other children at the shelter to help and protect them. The charity has teamed up with local NGOs and the government, including the social affairs department that runs the shelter, Rumah Perlindungan Sosial Snak.

This summer, 20 Hong Kong students visited the country as Unicef Young Envoys, to gain a better understanding of the problems facing such children.

Indonesia has huge reserves of natural resources such as oil, gas and gold. Its economy - southeast Asia's largest - is growing. Yet with 238 million people, it has the world's fourth-largest population, and poverty - and corruption - remain big problems. The World Bank says that in 2011 about 16.2 per cent of the population was living on only US$1.25 per day.

Such poverty, and a lack of education, especially among girls, means many children become victims of sexual abuse. Some are sold to human traffickers.

Domestic violence is common in families, especially in rural areas. "It's a challenge for us, as children being placed here are suffering from traumatic experiences," says Dede Nurdin, who runs the shelter, which cares for about 100 abuse victims and young offenders aged 10 to 18.

"Some are in a bad shape and close to losing their minds; we work with psychologists and social workers to help them regain their confidence, and their lives."

As well as offering a temporary safe environment and counselling, the shelter also provides workshops. Boys learn how to fix bikes and girls, like Annisa, take cooking classes.

"She likes to cook," says Elin Herlina, a social worker caring for female victims. "It helps to relax her mind. She's feeling quite depressed so a daily routine is good for her."

Daily life is peaceful in the shelter, but eventually victims must leave and return home - which may lead to other problems.

Sexual violence is a taboo subject in Indonesia's male-dominated nation, where 88 per cent of the population is Muslim. Often victims are blamed for the assault and not allowed back; Annisa is unsure if she can go home.

In Surabaya, the nation's second largest city, two sisters, aged 15 and 19, fled their home after the elder girl was repeatedly raped and abused by their father. They now live at Pusat Pelayanan Terpadu, a centre for abuse victims.

"My father beat us both many times," says the 19-year-old. "Sometimes he used hot cigarette ends to burn us."

"My mother knows what has happened, but she can't do anything. She has to earn money for the family. We ran away because we needed protection. I want my father jailed."


The Unicef Young Envoys, including Wendy Im (front row, second from left) and Shermaine Chan (third from left)

Unicef Young Envoy Shermaine Chan Sin-yuen, 16, of King George V School, says: "I was shocked by their experiences. I wanted to cry when I heard their stories.

"In Hong Kong, I'm worried about my exam results, but my fears are nothing compared to theirs. The trip has made me understand the importance of children's rights."

Another Unicef Young Envoy, Wendy Im Man-yi, 15, of Heep Yunn School, says: "I felt so sad for these young girls. Their lives were right in front of us; you can't learn this kind of thing in textbooks or on TV.

"I've learned so much from the trip. Now we want to try to work together to help improve the rights of all children."


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- Cason Crane has climbed the highest summits of the 7 continents in 15 months for his Rainbow Summits Project, raising funds for the anti-bullying Trevor Project for LGBT youths

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