By Marianne Kearney, IPS, 22 dec 1999
JAKARTA, Dec 22 (IPS) - Rahadi winds in and out of the buses pulling into Pulo Gading, one of Jakarta’s main bus stations. As soon as the buses are emptied of passengers, he jumps on and starts sweeping and mopping the rubbish-strewn floor and seats.
If he works eight hours a day he is paid 15,000 rupiah or about 2 U.S. dollars a day. Some of this money must go to pay his ‘preman’ or standover man, and rest will buy him two meals a day, with some change for cigarettes.
When 15-year-old Rahadi first left his village in Central Java, nearly two years ago, he thought he was coming to the city of riches. Although he might be surrounded by plush high rise buildings, he has realised it is not so easy to make money in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.
Only once has he taken money home to his family. "The longer I stay in Jakarta the more I realise living in Jakarta is not easy," he says.
Rahadi, who dropped out of senior high school as he could not afford to pay the fees, is one of a growing army of children and adolescents who have dropped out of school and taken to the streets of Indonesia’s major cities in an attempt to survive.
Many of them, like Rahadi and his friends have arrived from poorer parts of Indonesia, where it is becoming increasingly difficult for farming families to survive or find any other way of making money.
Since the economic crisis began two years ago, 30 percent of lower high school children have dropped out of school and an unknown number of children have dropped out of primary school.
Although the only official study to date says that in 12 of Indonesia’s major cities, there are around 40 000 child street workers, the number of working children is probably closer to 5.5 million — the same number that have left school. The United Nations Children’s Fund says almost 40 percent of young children (under 2 years old) are suffering from malnutrition.
Perched on the narrow concrete dividing strip just off a major Jakarta intersection, skinny Despi belts out "The Cry of Step Children’, a well-known local-style ‘dangdut’ song, to the accompaniment of her battered ghetto blaster.
Fourteen-year-old Despi first began singing with her friends because she thought it was exciting to do ‘karaoke’ on the streets. Prior to this, she sold newspapers for a few months, but that was a lot hotter and dirtier.
Only in her second year of junior high school Despi had to dropped out to earn about 20 rupiah (2.60 dollars) a day to help support her three younger brothers and sisters.
Although she’s aware of ‘preman’ hanging around her favourite busking sites, the biggest danger for her and her friends are private security guards and police.
Twice she has been picked up by the police for illegal busking and was imprisoned for two weeks in a children’s detention centre. These detention centres are supposed to be for the children’s rehabilitation, but they operate more like remand centres demanding large sums to release the children.
Despi’s parents couldn’t afford to pay the 100,000 rupiah fee (13 dollars) equal to more than her week’s wage, and so was detained for two weeks.
Stephen Woodhouse, the Asia director for UNICEF, agrees that the police are often the major hazard for child workers. "The police are their real enemies. They are always harassing the children for money," he said.
However, the local ‘preman’ also appear to control many of the buskers and beggars.
One of the dangers of the ‘preman’ and other adults hanging around these places is also sexual exploitation. For buskers who live with their family, such as Despi, it is not so risky, but it is far more so for those on the streets.
Rahadi says ‘preman’ or other men often come to the bus station at night and try to sodomise the boys. Usually, they band together to warn each other of the dangers. But many younger kids who are innocent to the workings of the bus station are preyed upon when they first stay there.
Rahadi’s protection is his boss, who lets him stay at his house with some of the other bus station kids or a drop in house, known as a ‘rumah singga’.
Funded by international agencies and local non-government groups, the ‘rumah singga’ are places where the children can socialise, eat well and have participate in a street kids’ school.
Rahadi who was introduced to the drop-in centre by an older friend considers himself lucky to have found such a place. "Because here we feel we have parents, he says, adding that he thinks he too would become a ‘preman’ if he lived only on the streets.
Now, he is taking a course in mechanics and hopes to one day give up cleaning buses and find work in a mechanic’s workshop.