(Source: Christiane Dase)

Break the silence

Violence is a taboo subject, also in the Muslim county of Indonesia. Beatings and sexual assaults often happen behind locked doors, the victims are mostly girls and women. Our partner PKPA helps them to talk about the deeds and to start a new life.

Text and photos: Christiane Dase

The girl is sitting in the back seat of the car with her eyes lowered staring at her hands. The hands of a 12-, maybe 14-year-old. Physical examination in the hospital, interviews at the Police - what must be going on in her head? Finally she can go home. And maybe forget, continue. Eventually.

It's been two months since a girlfriend harassed the girl together with her uncle and assaulted her sexually. Two months of silence, also shame. Two months of fear. "Now she finally dared to denounce the people who did this to her," says Rizka Harefa. Our car stops in front of a blue-green painted house in a side street - the Drop-in-Center and office of PKPA in Gunungsitoli, capital of Indonesian island of Nias. At the moment nobody lives in the shelter of the aid organisation Harefa works for. "In emergency situations, we bring victims of violence to be safe here," explains the young woman. 

Violence against children is a big problem on Nias 

(Source: PKPA)
Kindernothilfe's partner PKPA has been active in child protection on Nias since 2004

Pusat Kajian dan Perlindungan Anak (Learning and Child Protection Centre), PKPA, is a partner of Kindernothilfe and campaigns for children's rights and against exploitative child labour on Nias, an island with just over 750,000 inhabitants on the west coast off Sumatra. Again and again, the employees also support victims of violence. "We have two colleagues who deal just with cases of abuse," says Chairidani Purnamawati, head of PKPA on Nias. 

Sexualised, psychological, physical violence: PKPA registered 166 cases  last year, the number of unregistered cases is probably much higher. In 133 cases men were the perpetrators. "Violence against children and women is a big problem on Nias," stresses Purnamawati. And not only there, but everywhere in Indonesia, as in many countries of South and Southeast Asia. "Women are taught to be able to relate and to maintain peace in the family. The probability that women report domestic violence is low," says Urvashi Gandhi, Director of Global Advocacy at Breakthrough India, a non-governmental organization, who is committed to the promotion of girls and women, in an interview with the radio station Deutsche Welle.

If they report it, the girl will be killed 

(Source: Christiane Dase)
Chairidani Purnamawati heads PKPA's office in Nias

“The fates are affecting - even after years”, stresses Chairidani Purnamawati. Almost 15 years ago, one of those fates has burned itself into the 38-year-old's memory: "In 2006, we got a call from an NGO. It was about a five-year-old girl in a village in the area, the child lived with his uncle and had to look after his little nephew. The girl supposedly had stains all over her body." Purnamawati went to the village, "the child was locked in the house, but through the window I could see that the floor was covered with blood". The girl told her that her uncle had hammered her thumb and then went to work.

For two years the girl lived in the shelter of PKPA, where there are always some lovingly furnished rooms with cuddly animal-toys and colourful beds for emergencies. After that she moved into a dormitory and went to school. "The uncle threatened to kill his niece if we turned him in," Purnamawati recalls. Setbacks such as these are common in her job, but in many cases the perpetrators are brought to justice: "We then support the victims  with the police and in court, during hospital examinations. Our tasks include mediation at all levels." 

Cooperation with the police did not always work well, Chairidani Purnamawati and her colleagues had to fight to be respected as a local children's  aid organization. This always includes  persuading the government. "Meanwhile, we have enforced in Indonesian law that children should not be questioned by the police without an adult. And the police  must report every case of abuse on the island." 

PKPA also represents the rights of young people, mostly male offenders: "In Indonesia, children from the age of twelve can be condemned to go to prison." For violent crimes but also for drug offenses or theft. "We are committed to ensuring that boys are separated from adult offenders, and that if their case comes to trial, it will be heard under exclusion of the public", explains Purnamawati. 

The perpetrators are not always male 

(Source: Christiane Dase)
 Ayu was beaten for "misbehaviour"

Sofa and desk are the only pieces of furniture. In that big room they seem lost. The floor is tiled - luxury. With Rizka Harefa we are sitting in the living room of the mayor of a small village, about 40 minutes drive from the capital Gunungsitoli. The drive there, over narrow unpaved roads, past lush green rice fields and banana trees, is breathtaking. The poverty of the people in the village also takes your breath away. Six, seven, eight people or more live in the small barren huts, where there are often no more than two rooms with a few plastic chairs, no electricity and simply not enough space. In one of these houses the nine year old Ayu is living with her four younger siblings, her father and his new wife. Ayu's mother has died, her father remarried.

Ayu has dark sad eyes; with her short black hair she looks much younger. On the photo that the mayor's wife is holding out on her mobile phone, Ayu has a bloodshot eye, one half of her face is swollen. Another picture shows the belly of the girl - covered with bruises. That is how Ayu looked like after her stepmother had beaten her for "misbehavior". 

But Ayu's eyes sparkle when she sees Rizka Harefa. Over the past few months, she had come to trust the young woman. When the mayor's wife alerted PKPA, Harefa and her colleagues immediately fetched Ayu from the family. The girl lived with her grandmother for several months. PKPA staff spoke with Ayu's father and his wife. "Her father is working in the fields and is not often at home, he didn't know that his wife hits Ayu. She is sorry about what happened," says Harefa. Since a few weeks Ayu is back home. "Since the incident in September. her stepmother didn't hit her anymore", emphasizes Harefa, "we visit the family regularly, to discuss non-violent parenting and check that everything is all right." 

Sintia was abused by her father 

(Source: Christiane Dase)

Sintia feels safe again - and can finally be a child

A return to home is not always sensible, or even possible. When you see Sintia playing with her sister, you would not believe what she had to endure. A few months ago, when she saw Sintia for the first time, the 14-year-old was silent, anxious and severely traumatised, Harefa recalls. Sintia is living with her mother Ester and younger sister in an orphanage in Gunungsitoli, many hours away from her home village, somewhere in the north of the island. The mother is working here as a cook and they won't go back. “The memories of what happened in their home village are too terrible”, says Ester. 

In 2006 she remarried, the two girls are from her first marriage. "In 2014, the violence started. My husband didn't go to work and he drank a lot of alcohol. And then he started to threaten und to beat me and the kids," she recalls. "When he had drunk, he became a monster." Ester got pregnant. Once. Twice. She didn`t dare to leave her 34-year-old husband - the fear is too great from marginalization in the village. A divorced woman with four children? In the Muslim-dominated conservative Indonesia it's a taboo. "I have tried to solve our problems in the family." 

One day he sent her out for getting cigarettes. When Ester came back, she  saw her husband abusing Sintia. "I can do what I want, I'm the boss here," he said and threatened her with death, the motherrecalled . She gathered up all her courage and went to the police. Her husband fled the island shortly afterwards - but she and her children still didn't feel safe in their home village any longer. 

(Source: Christiane Dase)

Indonesia's islands are a paradise for tourists. But violence against girls and boys is not only a problem on Nias – and it often happens behind closed doors.

Half a year has passed since the mother and her two daughters fled their home. The first few weeks they found refuge in the shelter of PKPA, then they moved to the orphanage. Ester had to leave the two and five year old children with her mother-in-law. " I have not seen my children since September . I miss them very much and I hope that I  can bring them to our new home," she says. They feel happy here; Sintia is receiving psychological counseling to process her traumatic experiences. "She gets more and more cheerful every day and plays with the other children here. We are very grateful for our new life." A life without violence.