Sweden's Queen Silvia Puts Indonesian Children Front and Centre

“I want to be the first Indonesian to touch the moon!” proclaimed Ikhsan, a fifth-grade boy from the crowded neighbourhood of Manggarai, South Jakarta.

Sitting nearby, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden must have seemed an unlikely visitor to this urban slum, where children often lack the residency papers to attend primary school, let alone pursue a degree in something like astrophysics.

Ikhsan practices the “Jati-jati” dance ahead of Queen Silvia’s arrival.
© Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

“I want to become an astronaut!” Ikhsan continued, peppering his Bahasa Indonesian with a healthy dose of English. “But here, not many children even know what astronomy is.”

How might the Queen help kids like him realize such a dream? he wondered. And what might Indonesia be able to do?

“You’ve already got the most important thing,” Queen Silvia told Ikhsan and eight other youngsters, all members of the Window Community (Communitas Jendela) group, formed to create a safe space for young people to gather amid the poverty and gang activity in Manggarai.

“The most important thing is the dream itself,” the Queen told them. UNICEF organized the visit to Manggarai as part of the state visit to Indonesia this month by King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden. 

After meeting the children, the royal visitors also participated in a high-level roundtable with Indonesian officials and UNICEF.  One of the goals of the state visit was to bring the governments of Indonesia and Sweden closer together in the fight to end violence against children – ahead of further discussions between the two countries set for July at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Ending violence helps bring dreams to life

There is much governments can do to give children such as Ikhsan the space to grow their dreams.  And it starts by addressing the pernicious effects of violence at schools and in the home.

By now the links between violence and children’s development are well documented. Continued exposure to physical and/or emotional violence can have devastating effects on the physical, psychological, cognitive, and behavioural development of children.

Children living in abusive environments are also more likely to have health problems like alcoholism, heart disease and even diabetes later in life. It’s a costly problem. By one estimate, violence against children costs governments in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region between 2-3 per cent of annual GDP.
Sweden has been a pioneer in addressing the issue, becoming the first country to outlaw corporal punishment in 1979 and consistently placing children’s rights at the heart of sustainable development plans in international fora.

Queen Silvia listens as a member of the Window Community group describes her dreams for the future
©Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

As a private citizen, Queen Silvia has played a major role, too, founding the World Childhood Foundation in 1999 to protect a child’s right “to a childhood, to safety, happiness, playfulness and curiosity about life.” The organization currently works in over a dozen countries, focusing on children most at risk of abuse and exploitation.

Increasingly, Indonesia is joining the effort. 

Last year the Government joined Sweden as a “pathfinding country” in the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, committing to eliminate all forms of violence against children, including sexual, physical and emotional violence, and neglect, as part of the Agenda 2030. Both countries have volunteered to report on their nation’s progress on the SDG Agenda this July in New York City, when they will also co-host a public side event on preventing child violence.

In Indonesia, doing so will mean tackling issues like bullying (with almost a third of all children saying they have experienced bullying in school) and child marriage (where 360,000 girls are married annually). It also means addressing underlying factors increasing vulnerability; for example, more than a quarter of children aged under 4 years lack a birth certificate, leaving them more exposed to trafficking and exploitation.

Engaging youth

Last year, the Government of Indonesia passed the 2016-2020 National Strategy on the Elimination of Violence against Children, which is based on research evidence as well as consultations with thousands of children across the country about what issues are important to them.

Pernilla Baralt, the State Secretary to the Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality, applauded the inclusion of youth perspectives at the roundtable event, entitled “Global Collaboration to Fight a Global Epidemic: Indonesia and Sweden are Ending Violence against Children.”

Participants included Olof Skoog, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the EU; ministers, deputy ministers and child protection experts from both Sweden and Indonesia; and Gunilla Olsson, UNICEF Representative in Indonesia, who moderated the roundtable.

A young boy in East Java smiles for the camera
© Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

“We know the effects [of violence] on the development of a child … and we need to continue to collect data to convince the ones who are not yet convinced,” said Baralt.

“But involving children themselves is crucial. Without children’s ideas, we are not going to solve this [ending violence against children],” she added.

UNICEF Indonesia has made engaging youth a top priority. In 2015, the organization supported the Indonesian Youth on Violence against Children Network (YNVAC) – a coalition of anti-violence youth groups – to become a government partner on issues of child protection.

This year the YNVAC conducted a series of leadership trainings with 60 youth in the urban centres of Makassar, Surabaya and Banda Aceh – three areas where bullying and other school-based violence proliferates. All 60 trainees have pledged to train another 50 young leaders on how to be local champions, raising hopes that 3000 youth advocates might spread awareness among youth more broadly. 

YNVAC coordinator Ravio Patra, who took part in the roundtable, exemplified the kind of youth-to-government dialogue to which the Indonesian and Swedish governments aspire.

Ravio called for increased opportunities to meaningfully engage as young people with government on child rights.  “We want to help.  We are working in our networks, in communities, to spread messages of non-violence and child protection.”

Looking forward

With their shared role as “pathfinding countries,” Indonesia and Sweden are poised to become global leaders in the effort to make child protection a centrepiece of the sustainable development agenda.

Queen Silvia leaves the Roundtable Discussion
© Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

“The Indonesia government recognizes the enormity of the problem,” said Ibu Yohanna Susana Yembise, Indonesian Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. “Not only does violence impact emotional, cognitive and physical development negatively, it impacts on future growth and the development of the Government of Indonesia by undermining our most valuable resource – our children,” she added.

Swedish State Secretary Baralt agreed, and said the growing partnership between Indonesia and Sweden was poised do great things for children.
“With this meeting, the meeting in New York this summer, and another ‘solutions summit’ in Stockholm – we have a road map,” she said. “But in between there’s a lot of things that each of us will have to do.”

“I truly believe that both the Government of Indonesia and Sweden feel we have started something, and we will not let go until we have results.”

Ending violence against children calls for a true partnership between children, youth, government, civil society and communities. 

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

This article taken from UNICEF Blog Website


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