Jayadi is 15 years old and one of six children. The teenager is growing up in Prumpung slum in East Jakarta, an impoverished community of ramshackle buildings and open sewers tucked behind one of the city’s sprawling cemeteries.
In the years following his father’s death, Jayadi has helped his mother support the family financially. During the day he shines shoes at local train stations, working with his brothers and sisters so that the
household can afford to eat.
“I like helping my Mum, but I get really tired,” said Jayadi. “I have to get up really early and work hard before I get to see my friends.”
Unfortunately, the story of Jayadi and his siblings is not unique. They are just six of an estimated 6.5million children in Indonesia who spend their childhoods working menial jobs in a bid to bolster their families’ finances.
Of that 6.5million, an approximate 8,000 are working in Jakarta. The city is a colossal concrete jungle in which obscene wealth and abject poverty are grotesquely juxtaposed, where deluxe shopping malls and skyscrapers tower over slums and run-down areas.
Although Indonesia is at the forefront of Asia’s current economic prosperity with an estimated 5.6 per cent growth forecast for this year, most of the country’s families survive on as little as 50p a day. Many adults depend on the income generated by their children as a result.
Jakarta’s streets are teeming with working kids, whether they are abandoned, runaways or working on behalf of their families. They make money by shining shoes, begging, scavenging plastic from rubbish dumps, and holding umbrellas for wealthy people during rainstorms.
Others wander through the hectic traffic singing songs for cash at car windows, using bottles of pebbles as instruments. They work for hours in Jakarta’s 40 degree heat, often only supervised by elder siblings.
An abundance of dangers await these children. Each time they work alone in public places they are left vulnerable to thieves, recruitment by organised crime syndicates, violence and sexual abuse. Often children find themselves ‘claimed’ by gangs who force them to surrender their earnings under threat of violence. They are also vulnerable to turn to prostitution or crime to earn extra money.
However, the most concerning threat to Jakarta’s street children are predatory paedophiles. In 2010 and 2011, several disturbing cases emerged of men abusing young children working on the streets.
The most high profile case was that of Babe, a local cigarette vendor who offered his home as a ‘safe house’ for young street boys. When the remains of a 13-year-old were found beneath a bridge in East Jakarta, Babe admitted to raping street kids he invited into his home and killing 14 of them. After murdering the children, Babe sodomised and dismembered them. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
As no regulatory bodies exist to supervise the creation of safe houses, anyone is allowed to open their doors to these helpless children – be they good Samaritan or wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In response to similar incidents of abuse, the Jakarta Police and Social Affairs Agency were pushed to investigate the prevalence of sex crimes against street children in the city.
In 2010, Head of Social Affairs Budi Hardjo announced plans to select a random cross-section of street children upon which to conduct rectal examinations in search of signs of abuse, performing ‘raids’ on the identified hang-outs and testing children at random; a sudden, invasive procedure that would be traumatising for the youngsters irrespective of whether they had previously suffered abuse.
Criticism from human rights groups thankfully prevented these investigations from being implemented and Hardjo swiftly back-peddaled on plans to examine kids using a ‘city-wide dragnet’ technique. The Social Affairs Agency agreed to use more persuasive methods and attempt to speak to the children, rather than springing intrusive medical procedures on them.
The Indonesian government then ambitiously proclaimed that they would have the country’s roads free of street kids by 2014, with an aim of eradicating Jakarta’s street children problem by the end of 2011.
The ‘Street Children-Free Jakarta 2011’ programme aims to give each street child in Jakarta a gift of 1.5million rupiah – just over £100 – to stop them from working. To a child who has only known hardship and labour, this is a staggering amount of money.
Children are assessed by government agencies and categorized according to need, with orphaned, abandoned or homeless children given priority for funding. Accredited shelters are then asked to look after the money for the children, provided the kids agree to give up work in favour of studying.The project has now overrun into 2012, as the government fell short of its ambitious promise.
The programme cannot bring all of Jakarta’s working kids in from the streets. Many of the young men and women yet to receive a coveted bursary aren’t even aware of the programme’s existence. The government claim that these children are on the waiting list but with no exact method of calculating how many of them there are, it is unlikely that they will all be accounted for.
It has therefore become essential to acknowledge the work of charities outwith the ‘Street Children-Free Jakarta 2011’ initiative. These organisations existed long before the government were pressured into taking action and will exist long after the programme is successful, or in fact abandoned.
For each slum child born after the well of government funding has long dried up, these charities will attempt to provide valuable protection, education and hope.
Sahabat Anak (Child’s Best Friend) is one of these organisations. The charity holds study houses in slum buildings, under bridges and next to railway lines to help educate working kids.
“It’s difficult at first,” explained Sahabat Anak coordinator SimSim.
“People don’t understand why you
want to come into their community – we have to persuade them that we’re not here to brainwash them.”
Once the charity workers have overcome the hurdle of gaining local trust, they must alter the community’s attitudes towards education and, ultimately, themselves. In a society that is increasingly obsessed with material wealth and the acquisition of status, people living in poverty are marginalised and often maltreated.
“Street children have no self-worth, they think they have no future outside the hardship they’ve known,” she said.
“Sahabat Anak is committed to restoring children’s rights. Their right to play, their right to an education, the right to enjoy their childhood.”
When Sahabat Anak opened in Prumpung, charity workers met Jayadi. He is now a promising student, has won the charity’s English competition three years in a row and is a volunteer teacher for younger students. He hopes to be a business man when he’s older.
Jayadi has developed self-confidence, realised the value of his education and is making plans for the future – despite not being a recipient of ‘Street Children-Free Jakarta’ funding. Although the city has a long way to go with regards to protecting its most vulnerable citizens, it is clear steps are being taken to improve their welfare.
“I want to be a good man in future,” added Jayadi. “To get a good job and look after my family.
“I love studying and helping other kids, even if I’m tired from working all day.”