Underage labor, it just gets worse
State needs to throw more money and resources at eliminating child poverty
Konradus Epa, Jakarta
It was midnight when I met an eight year old little girl named Tari at a Jakarta bus station, selling goods to passengers and drivers.
A woman asked her, ”Why don’t you go home?” The little girl replied that she as afraid to go home without any money. “My mum and dad will beat me. They will not let me in,” she said.
Tari is among millions of poor children forced to work every day, late into the night, to support their families. They may not be allowed to step into their house before handing over some money to their parents.
Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) said that in the past two years, out of 58.8 million children aged 5-17, about 1.7 million were classified as child workers more than 12 hours work per week in poor conditions), though a further 4.05 million were "active economically" (not exploited but working up to 12 hours per week).
About 50 percent of these children work about 21 hours a week and 20.7 percent work more than 40 hours a week under hazardous conditions.
The organizations also said 6.7 million children do not attend school.
As parents were poor the children have to help them earn money by becoming newspaper vendors, beggars, shoe polishers, and more.
These children are frequently subjected to sexual abuse, child prostitution and drug trafficking.
The National Commission on Child Protection said Indonesian children are working as domestic helpers, prostitutes, and working in mining, agriculture, plantation and fishing.
ILO recorded that in 2010 most children work in agriculture, plantations, fishing and services.
Child labor in Indonesia is rampant, though it was regulated in the 2002 Law on Child Protection.
The law obliges parents, society, government and the state to uphold children’s rights.
The law, however, has not been fulfilled optimally as poverty is still high, forcing children to work as breadwinners.
The 2002 law was intended to ensure children were treated with dignity, protecting them from violence and discrimination. It’s ironic that poor children are neglected, or even forced to work more than 10 hours daily.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also gives due respect to children’s rights. Indonesia has ratified the Child Rights Convention, and must protect the children.
The Indonesian government, via its manpower and transmigration ministry, has taken measures to reduce the number of child workers.
Minister Muhaimin Iskandar claimed he has helped over 6,000 children in the past two years and threatened to imprison parents and anyone else who perpetuates child labor.
No matter how hard the government will work on this, it will not change the situation.
Statistics bureau reports that 35 million Indonesians earn less than $1 a day. If the number of poor people remains high, children will still be vulnerable to exploitation by families.
With regard to World Day against Child Labor on June 12, ILO suggests taking "hazardous child labor" as the theme.
It hopes to decrease the number of children exposed to hazardous environments, slavery, drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as armed conflict.
The Indonesian church is also concerned with the high number of child workers.
Jakarta archdiocese and other dioceses, parishes, lay groups, religious congregations and individuals have offered various services to help children.
These include offering scholarship, free health care, and consultations.
The Holy See's representative to United Nations, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, urged those responsible to "invest in children" as part of the solution to eradicate poverty.
“Human history teaches us that if there is sufficient investment in children they will grow up to contribute far in excess of what they have consumed, thereby raising the standard of living for all,” the prelate said in his speech in the UN last February.
Indonesian church groups have done their part, but they lack finance as the number of poor children increases.
To help save more children from falling into the same pit, the government has to provide free education, allocate big amounts for children’s education, must be committed to protect children's rights, and educate the public to respect children.
Konradus Epa is a journalist living in Jakarta