She relies on crutches to walk. Those who know her closely cannot help but admire her because her physical disability is far from stopping her work as an activist.
Even though she has to travel long distances, she goes where she is needed.
Her family and her friends call her Velma but her full name, Velmariri Bambari, is today recognized as a member of the BBC's 2022 list, in which the 100 most influential and inspiring women in the world appear. She is 43 years old and was born in Indonesia in 1980. Any day in 2018 she decided to dedicate her life to defending the girls and women of her country against sexual violence.
Velma was always a housewife but she resolved to raise her voice to defend the victims. She thought that the best thing to be heard was to prepare. In 2014 she started classes on female empowerment and child protection at the Mosintowu Institute, in Poso, the regency of the Central Sulawesi province of Indonesia.
There is no jail for rapists
Under customary law in the activist's hometown of Sulawesi, both the sexual offender and her victim pay fines for the act, but there is no jail time for the offender.
Why do victims of sexual abuse have to pay fines? This so-called customary right considers that the raped girl or woman has contaminated the village where she lives and for her family, it is a duty to "wash" her with money.
Bambari has fought so that, in cases of sexual abuse of girls or women, positive law applies, that is, that which is derived from written legal norms that can become laws. Customary law follows custom but has no legal footing. By raising her voice in protest and demanding justice, Velma breaks the precepts that have ordered her life since childhood, but this does not seem to matter to her.
Since 2022 many Indonesian women victims of sexual assault turn to Velma who has already helped at least 10 of them not only to obtain justice but to empower themselves and prepare to be financially independent.
Child abuse in Indonesia
Throughout the 17,000 islands that make up the huge Indonesian archipelago, in 2021 there were almost 274 million inhabitants. Even when there are privileged classes, the economic benefits do not reach the entire population, meaning that many families with their children live in conditions of extreme poverty with limited access to health services, food, and drinking water.
In this scenario, thousands of children and women are exposed to physical, psychological, and sexual violence. The exploitation of minors is common, as is it for parents to prostitute their daughters to bring money home.
Thousands of children flee their homes and wander the streets. They sell their bodies to get food; others, in rural areas, are recruited to work as farmers and care for animals.
This is the reality that the housewife and activist Velmariri Bambari has known, recognized today throughout the world for her defense against sexual abuse that affects thousands of girls and women in her country, Indonesia.