LOMBOK, Indonesia, 15 May 2007 - More than a dozen lawmakers from around the world took time out from the recent Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly held in Bali to take a firsthand look at UNICEF projects on neighbouring Lombok Island.
The first stop for the lawmakers was a village health clinic where they saw how mothers are informed about basic nutrition and health care, and how infants and young children receive regular check-ups.
"We need to ensure every child has access to free medical services in order to give them the start they deserve in life," said Australian MP Kay Hull, one of the visiting legislators. "All vaccinations and immunizations should be free and we should encourage reproductive health care in mothers and families, including fathers."
Protecting future generations
The lawmakers also saw pregnant women receiving care at a local maternity clinic and, as an added surprise, a woman who had given birth just an hour before their arrival.
"I want to make sure that this little girl's rights are protected, and that means that all children have access to proper health care," said Indonesian MP Tuti Loekman. "One of my particular concerns is female circumcision, which is still practiced in some parts of the country. This practice is against human rights, and parents need to be aware of this."
Recognizing the critical need to protect growing children from violence, abuse and exploitation, the lawmakers went on to visit a facility where the local child protection service - known as LPA - is trying to do just that by involving young people themselves.
Support for victims of violence
"This is a great facility," said Japanese MP Miho Takai. "It's wonderful to see children volunteer, to see them express what they want and learn to solve problems. I would like to bring this idea back with me to Japan."
LPA also supports victims of violence. For example, the staff is currently working to bring to justice a teacher who reportedly raped an eight-year-old girl. The lawmakers visited police headquarters, where victims of child abuse, violence and exploitation are served by officers specifically trained to deal with such incidents.
"We must realize that violence and sexual exploitation are pervasive problems," said Canadian MP Sue Barnes. "We have to acknowledge that we cannot solve these problems alone and we need organizations like UNICEF who are on the ground. We all have a role."
Benefits of child-friendly school
Of course, making children aware of the dangers of abuse and violence can protect them from ever becoming victims. This issue is being addressed at an innovative elementary school in Lombok, where children learn about their rights in an open environment. Here, teachers are also trained to spot potential victims in their own classrooms.
This 'child-friendly' approach, developed by UNICEF, has made an impact in Indonesia and was praised by the lawmakers.
"This is an impressive approach, so much more than rote learning. It's interactive, the children do their work and share. They can ask questions and even criticize things," noted Egyptian MP Syada Elharmy Griess.
Many of the parliamentarians said they were inspired by the Lombok visit. One said it was "a wake-up call," and another concluded that while good child protection laws are vital, they need to be properly implemented and supported - including at community level .
"By taking this opportunity to visit what UNICEF does, these MPs will get to know the reality of child protection issues," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Toshiyuki Niwa. "It is an excellent way to develop a good understanding within the global community at large."