By Richel Dursin, IPS, 13 jul 2000
JAKARTA, Jul 13 (IPS) Beaten by his parents for stealing, Teguh ran away six years ago from his home province of Kebumen in Central Java and took a train bound for the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
The seventh among 10 children, Teguh spent for his fare 16,000 rupiah or at least 2 U.S. dollars, which he earned peddling bicycles he had stolen. With nowhere to go, Teguh, then 15, opted to live on Jakarta’s streets. For five years, Jakarta’s central business district was his home.
Teguh became a street singer, beggar, robber, and "joki" or a driver’ s companion on Jakarta’s streets where only vehicles with at least three passengers are allowed to pass. In a day, he earned between 15,000 and 20,000 rupiah, but members of criminal syndicates looted half of his earnings.
"Living on the streets is very difficult. You are exposed to many dangers, including abuse by law enforcement officials as well as health hazards such as pollution," said Teguh, who was picked up by the police and put behind bars for being an "eyesore".
Teguh spent two days and two nights in jail until the police threw him away on Cikampek toll road going to West Java, hoping that he would never return to the capital. But he took a bus trip back.
Upon returning to Jakarta, he learned from his friends on the streets about the non-governmental Yayasan Griya Asih, which offers temporary shelter for street children.
That was two years ago. Teguh, now 21, is one of the 74 beneficiaries of Yayasan Griya Asih, which is known as "House Full of Love for Children". Said Teguh: "I feel ashamed of my past. I want to change, but to change is not that easy."
At present, Yayasan Griya Asih sends Teguh and the other 73 former street children to school and teaches them livelihood activities like making handicrafts and selling noodles and ice candy.
"Teguh is the best student in his class," said 55-year-old Tuti Murniati, who founded Yayasan Griya Asih in July 1996 after her son, Andre, brought 40 street children to their home when almost all of Jakarta’s streets were flooded in February that year.
"The problem of street children in Indonesia is very complex," said Arist Merdeka Sirait, executive director of the independent National Commission for Child Protection (NCCP).
The NCCP, which receives funding support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says there are about 1.7 million street children in Indonesia’s 26 provinces. "Every province in Indonesia has many street children and the number of children on the streets keeps on increasing because of the economic crisis," Sirait said.
Jakarta alone has some 40,000 street children, compared to 15,000 before the 1997 economic crisis, according to NCCP.
"The street children think Jakarta is a city with gold," said Murniati, who is called "mother" by the children staying at the Yayasan Griya Asih centre in a suburb in East Jakarta.
So do many of their parents, who push children to earn money on the streets in hard times, social experts say. In some cases "the children are being treated as economic objects by their parents," said Anne- Marie Fonseka, child protection project officer of UNICEF in Jakarta.
Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved with street children complained that several parents go once a week to the drop-in centres where their children stay — and get their earnings.
Of the 39,861 street children surveyed in 12 big cities in Indonesia by the Centre for Societal Development Studies of the Catholic Atma Jaya University, 80 percent still have ties with their families and almost half are new entrants on the streets since the financial crisis.
In Indonesia, street children are grouped into four categories: children who live on the streets, children who work on the streets, children who are vulnerable to become street children and street children who are 16 years and above.
Life on the streets often drives youngsters to take odd jobs, or to get into a life of crime.
Aside from singing, begging, stealing and working as ‘jokis’, Indonesian street children earn money by loaning umbrellas when it is raining, collecting garbage, cleaning cars, selling illegal drugs and even sex, becoming porters, parking attendants and shoe shine boys.
Likewise, Sirait says, "many Indonesian street children become criminals because they are organised by crime syndicates."
Studies done by NGOs involved with street children show that the abusive environment at home is the number one reason why Indonesian children live on the streets.
Siti, 10, who often begs to passersby in Menteng, Central Jakarta, says it is better for her to dwell on the streets than live at home with her abusive stepfather.
"I find happiness on the streets instead of staying at home with my wicked stepfather," said Siti, who has been living on Jakarta’s streets for almost a year now. Her stepfather, she lamented, often kicked her with no apparent reason.
Costly rents also force many children in Indonesia to live on the streets, particularly in Jakarta. "Many of the children who prefer to stay on the streets have small homes and there is no room to play," Fonseka said.
As in other countries, majority of the street children in Indonesia are boys. Of the 39,861 street children assessed by the Atma Jaya University, for instance, 32,678 are boys.
"This is an advantage in the sense that the girls are more vulnerable to abuse of all kinds, including the danger of being raped, getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and having unwanted pregnancies," said Soetarso, Asian Development Bank consultant on project design and training on street children.
But whatever their gender, street children struggle with life. Often, they are labelled runaways, out-of-school youths, homeless kids, vagrants — all with negative connotations — and considered undeserving of basic services.
For instance, most street children are also discriminated against by health centres and schools. Health service providers do not give priority to them, since the health cards they get from the Ministry of Health are given to them free, according to Fonseka.
"The government has limited stocks and the health cards are distributed to people who have to get a certification that they are poor. To be certified as poor you have to pay a certain amount of money. And who wants to be certified as poor anyway?" she said.
So while the cards are meant to give the poor and marginalised access to public health services, they actually "induce discriminatory treatment because of inability to pay," said Sirait.
Some activists say part of the problem lies in Indonesia’s lack of either a child protection law or a department addressing children’s needs, after President Abdurrahman Wahid abolished the social affairs ministry in 1999 as part of an efficiency campaign.
"We have the Child Welfare Act of 1979, but it is outdated. It is not very effective. It has no implementing guidelines and does not tackle new problems like abuse, violence, and trafficking of children," said Irna Kurniasih, director of child, family and elderly welfare of the National Social Welfare Agency (BKSN).
This agency was set up by the Wahid government mainly to accommodate the employees of the former Ministry of Social Affairs. "The establishment of the BKSN was just a political propaganda of the government," Kurniasih herself said.
"Our government and parliament are insensitive to child’s rights. They are only concerned with political issues, not with social issues," said Sirait, whose organisation seeks the creation of a State Ministry for Child Protection to replace the social affairs ministry.
Argued Sirait: "If we could have a State Ministry for Human Rights and State Ministry for the Empowerment of Women, why can’t we have a State Ministry for Child Protection?"