Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Child Commission to visit Aceh victims

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

As part of the campaign to protect children in conflict areas, the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) will celebrate the National Children's Day, which falls on July 23, in Aceh.

Komnas Anak chairman Seto Mulyadi, better known as Kak (brother) Seto, said that the commission's representatives would meet war victims in the troubled territory.

"Most children in Aceh are now under pressure and stress," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, "What they really need right now is a peaceful, comforting and loving psychological environment."

To fill the need, Komnas Anak will establish a number of shelters for child war victims in Aceh as rehabilitation centers.

"They deserve a life that's beautiful, one in which they can play and study peacefully and cheerfully," said Kak Seto, a prominent educator.

For that purpose, the commission will cooperate with the State Ministry of Women's Empowerment, the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, as well as with several private corporations.

There are about 1.3 million children under 18 in Aceh, who have been trapped in the middle of the war.

Many of them have been directly impacted by the ongoing violence and upheaval, in which tens of thousands have been forced out of their homes and put in squalid camps and watched over by heavily armed troops.

"The words 'direct impact' there could mean a lot. Either they are involved directly in the operations, or they must be evacuated with or without their families," said Achmad Marzuki, also of Komnas Anak.

Children's imaginations are built through their daily lives. In a war, Marzuki said, they witness violence, clashes, people getting killed and chaos, every day, which might cause them to suffer permanent psychological damage.

Seto asked the military to be more aware of the psychological impact that war has on children.

"If they (the children) suddenly run away or refuse to look someone in the face, that does not mean that they are separatist sympathizers," he said. "Such reactions would more likely be caused by the trauma they have experienced."

Komnas Anak is now working with both child victims and military officers in Aceh, and is also lobbying top military officers in Jakarta to handle children in Aceh with extra care.

Lt. Gen. (ret) Kiki Syahnakri, said the military was now trying to limit the number of civilian victims, including children, in the Aceh war.

"However, we are talking about a cultural transformation within the military and that is not easy to do in a short period," the former deputy Army chief of staff said.

Kiki asked professional organizations such as the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and Komnas Anak to assist the military with human rights and the handling of child victims.