UCA News

Indonesia’s no nation for children

Problems faced by its children are complex and inseparable from those ailing the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation
Indonesian children play with plastic bottles at a waste collection site in Banda Aceh on Oct. 28, 2022

Indonesian children play with plastic bottles at a waste collection site in Banda Aceh on Oct. 28, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 22, 2023 11:43 AM GMT
Updated: February 22, 2023 11:43 AM GMT

Violence against children in Indonesia has reached a critical stage, with new incidents of abuse continuing to occur. Ironically, it happens amid intensified campaigns by the government and civil society groups, including churches.

Cases of girls and boys being raped, kidnapped, and tortured make media headlines almost every day.

A disturbing incident happened last month in Makassar, South Sulawesi. An 11-year-old boy was kidnapped and killed by two teenage boys. Local authorities said they did so after being lured by an internet advert offering to pay a high price for human organs.

The offer vanished immediately after the murder case became public.

Sexual abuse of children is rampant in the Muslim-majority nation and almost all regions have reported a number of cases.

In Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province, a former member of the local assembly was arrested last month for fondling a three-year-old girl. A would-be-Protestant minister from the same province was nabbed for sexually abusing a dozen Sunday school girls.

Such incidents give Indonesia the distinction of having one of the highest rates of child abuse in Southeast Asia.

The Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection reported over 16,100 child abuse cases, mostly sexual crimes, in 2022 that victimized over 17,640 children.

This is indeed a national tragedy as many more cases are not reported.

It becomes a concern of all, as abuse and trauma bear a detrimental impact on a child's growth, according to UNICEF.

Regrettably, child sexual abuse seems to have a knock-on effect as reports show many offenders were also abused in the past.

Not just that. Problems facing Indonesian children, apart from violence, are heavily related to poverty. Poverty is often seen not as a crime. But systemic poverty is a crime against humanity.

Since the pandemic, Indonesia has seen a rise in poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, human trafficking, and other negative issues that affect families, including children.

Government data show that the number of poor people in Indonesia increased significantly from 24.7 million in 2019 to 26.3 million in 2022. Unemployment also rose from 7 million to 8.4 million.

This situation has an impact on the health of people, particularly children, as their parents purchasing power declines.

A study published last year stated that more than half of Indonesia's population of 270 million people is unable to meet daily nutritional needs. This has an impact, among other things, on the high prevalence of stunting among Indonesian children.

Last year, the number of stunted children aged 12-13 nearly doubled from 565,000 in the previous year to 978,930 last year.

The national population and family planning agency states that over 23 million children — about 24 percent — suffer from stunting, which is higher than the UN’s tolerated 20 percent standard.

The agency also says that every year, around 300,000 newborns are at risk of stunting due to poverty and weak maternal health. The lack of education among many newly-wed couples will eventually affect the growth and well-being of their children.

Poverty also affects the mental health of the community, especially the young ones. A survey says that 15.5 million Indonesian adolescents aged 10 to 17 years have had mental health problems in the past 12 months.

The problems faced by Indonesian children are so complex and inseparable from the difficulties faced by society. Their agony is exacerbated by incompetent, abusive school managers, teachers, and in some instances religious leaders.

Reports show that many cases of violence against children occurred in educational institutions. Most sexual abuses happened in elementary schools, followed by high schools and Islamic boarding schools or pesantren. The perpetrators are mostly male teachers and in some cases school principals.

There have been many efforts to tackle the multidimensional problems faced by children.

The government has shut down inappropriate internet sites. But cases of child pornography still mushroom out there.

Last year, an Indonesian court sentenced a religious teacher to death for raping 13 Muslim girls aged 13-16 at an Islamic school in Bandung, West Java. Eight of them were pregnant. Yet, sexual abuse at schools continues to happen.

The problems faced by children are so complex that the efforts don’t seem to effectively address the situation. If schools or public places are no longer safe for the children, is there any institution that they can cling to?

Perhaps home or family is their last refuge. But it doesn’t mean there are no risks there because not all families are child friendly.

Nevertheless, the government, civil society, and religious groups often emphasize the importance of family in children’s education and growth.

President Joko Widodo has admitted the irreplaceable role of a family not only for a child’s development but also nation-building.

All religions — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. — see the family as the best and safest place for children to learn their faith and cultivate altruistic experiences.

For the Catholic Church, family is the first church. It’s not just the first place to teach them the Christian faith but also foster a spirit of service to others.

Responding to various incidents of violence and injustice in society, Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta called on families to maintain harmony, which is fundamental for healthy relationships.

When the children are safe, the society is safe, the nation is safe and God will be happy. Because “anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” (Mat. 18:5)

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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