UNICEF and UNDP, for instance, state in their latest assessments that 40% of Indonesian children below the age of five are suffering from malnutrition and 60% of pregnant women and school age children are anaemic.
Following the economic crisis that hit Indonesia in 1997, the number of children who work the streets with their parents’ consent has sharply increased.
“Since the crisis, the number of kids who are forced to leave school and work the streets has increased by 100%," said Rachma Fitriani from the National Commission of Children’s rights.
Another report from the Central Statistic Agency revealed that 11.7 million children were forced out of school in 1999 due to economic reasons and today more than 2.1 million kids are working the streets of Indonesia’s main cities.
Seto Mulyadi, an activist and psychologist focussing on children said that, in most cases, children were denied their basic rights due to their parents’ economic conditions.
Left to fend for themselves
“Not only are children denied their rights to a decent standard of living, clean water and adequate nutrition, but also end up working the streets and are therefore denied their right to education,” said Mulyadi.
“My parents died and left me with nothing. My neighbour sold my parent’s house and kicked me out into the street,” said nine-year-old Angga as he rushed off to clean a train in the Kota station in Jakarta.
Cleaning trains at stations, selling newspapers and begging are some of the jobs these kids do to survive.
Child labour has long been a problem in Indonesia. Children can be found working in almost all sectors of industries, from the shipping industry to the production lines of dangerous chemical substances.
According to the latest data from the Directorate General for Manpower Supervision (DGMS), more than 500,000 children are working in the Indonesian formal sector.
Many activists have slammed the government for not taking the matter seriously. “How can the government close its eyes to this problem? We are talking about the future generation of our country,” Mulyadi said.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri has conceded that the government’s contribution is small. "We must admit that we have not given what is best for our children," she said during the commemoration of National Children’s Day last July.
However, DGMS chief MSM Simanihuruk is quick to defend the accusation that the government is not doing anything about this growing problem. “The government has taken steps towards banning certain jobs for children in order to protect them from health and moral hazard and to ensure their safety,” he said.
"We must admit that we have not given what is best for our children"
Law No 13/2003 on labour prohibits the employment of children as slaves, in pornography, the drug trade and in chemically hazardous jobs.
Simanihuruk admits that the government can only enforce the ban in the formal sector. “We cannot ban jobs that involve begging or singing on the streets, as that is out of our authority,” he said.
Dissatisfied with the government’s move, many NGOs and activists have tried to provide an option for a better future for these kids.
Tucked in the eastern part of the capital Jakarta, for the past year, a “learning house” has been set up to provide general education to children aged between 3 and 15 years.
The effort has met with resistance from both the targeted children and their parents. "Many of the kids have lost interest in studying. The parents prefer having their kids working to help the family rather than spending time in classes," one of the founders of this "learning house", Yani Marwoto said.
Some organisations in the private
sector provide free education
Marwoto and her colleagues were then forced to come up with a way to make the learning activities as attractive as possible. “We are providing free health care and cheaper rice for the kids and their parents,” Marwoto said.
There is ample evidence to show that the streets are an unsafe place for kids.
"One day after cleaning the station, my friends and I decided to sleep on the park. A group of men attacked and raped us," said Selfi, a 12-year-old girl.
A report by the Jakarta office of the International Labour Organisation-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) said that a large number of children in the country were trapped in the worst forms of child labour: prostitution.
The report revealed that the number of child prostitutes is on the increase. In Viaduct Park, East Jakarta, for example, of 109 sex workers hawking the area, 90% were aged between 11 and 20.
An activist from the National Commission on Children’s rights, Rachma Fitriani said Indonesia was facing the potential risk of a lost generation. "A loss of a generation due to poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, lack of attention and lack of love," she said.
"This situation has created a new generation growing up with hatred towards society. They grow up with a feeling of injustice,” Mulyadi said. “Is this the kind of future we want for our country?"