Wed, 28 Jun 2000

Have we lied to our children?

The effect on children who have witnessed continuing violence is beyond most adult's comprehension. The Jakarta Post talked to Karlina Leksono of the Volunteer Team for Humanity, who has been in contact with victims in various conflict areas. An excerpt of the interview follows:

Question: How do you see the degree of crimes, riots and other violent incidents which occur on a daily basis here?

Answer: Violence in Indonesia has many forms, that conducted among civilians; that committed by the state apparatus, including the military against civilians; and domestic violence.

We have to examine these different forms carefully to see the impacts. Generally, it seems, violence is a kind of pattern used to solve problems on many levels. Then there are questions about whether this is the original nature of our people.

I don't agree with those who say that we are trapped in a kind of barbarism. There's a specific situation triggering the violence ...

Children have witnessed riots and crimes in many places. Your comments?

They have not only witnessed violence but have also been involved in it. This happens not only in Jakarta but also nationwide where children are initially only witnesses and victims, but then some become active in the incidents.

I'm not a psychologist, but I believe that the systemic riots in the country do have an impact on children.

In riot-torn areas like Ambon, for instance, some children have witnessed their parents being murdered, and then they became involved in the riots.

We don't have any groups to support these children.

We can also see that the number of children forced to live on the streets has increased. I'm angry that the elites and political parties only talk about conflicts but never about the victims, especially the children ...

Do you have any idea how to help the children?

We (the volunteer team) deal with humanity, not specifically children. There are already other groups starting to do something for the children, like the psychiatrists' association and the Human Rights Commission for Children.

We also support other groups especially formed to help children. Indeed we have to do more but the first thing that must be done is to stop the conflicts.

What can we expect from the government?

Everyone wants the government to stop the violence and there should be a systematic solution in place for the children. State bodies including state ministries of social affairs and those dealing with women's empowerment and national education for instance, can coordinate their activities to support the children.

In Aceh, for example, hundreds of schools have been burned. There must be solutions for children on how to continue schooling in these situations. For example, by constructing temporary facilities like tents.

But in Jakarta, some high school students themselves have committed crimes. Is this a kind of impact of the various riots?

This situation is related to others. I've recently studied the student textbooks, particularly those on civics, to try to understand the nature of the materials. Many subjects taught at elementary schools, which are continued into high school, are normative. This means that students only learn about the ideal home, the ideal family, the ideal nation and any other thing that is ideal. But they live in a reality which does not always reflect these ideal conditions.

There's a big gap (between the textbooks and reality). These days especially, students are a part of the public life in a time of crisis. They also see that in reality the law is easily violated. We have to think together to find a solution. We need something real. The government also has to restore law and order to avoid injustice.

What could parents tell their children when they ask about the riots and violence in Indonesia?

We have to tell them the truth. I'd like to encourage parents to talk about this seriously to their children. They have to tell the children that there's injustice, that there are riots and violence. And that there are those in society who are more "fortunate" than others, that there are victims of the system and so on. The younger the children are briefed about this, the better.

It's good if children can ask at school about children in Aceh or Ambon who witness violence. Parents can discuss the causes of the riots with the children. Parents should not tell their children that Indonesia has turned to barbarism.

Just tell them the facts. So far we have provided only normative information but the real facts are different. We have just been lying to our children.

You mean in formal education?

In general and in formal education. Many parents do not want to be honest, to say that there's something wrong in our society, in our system ...

Some parents are reluctant to talk about this. Some do not comprehend what's going on. In fact, many people, including analysts, see the mass riots and violence as a communal problem and blame the masses instead of recognizing a system which has institutionalized the riots. (I. Christianto)