Unicef Reports Progress, But Poverty and Abuse Remain Problems for Indonesian Children


JUNE 23, 2015

Jakarta. A recent report by a United Nations agency reveals that nations across the world, including Indonesia, have made significant strides in ensuring the basic rights and needs of children, but local activists say that child poverty and abuse remain significant issues in Indonesia.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) on Monday issued its latest report, The Progress for Children, which charts international efforts to fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in relation to the world’s youth population.

According to the report, Indonesia has made vast progress in certain sectors of child protection and security.

Since the creation of the MDGs in 2000, Indonesia has worked to reduce its mortality rate for children under five years old — from the 1990 baseline of 84 deaths per 1,000 live births to 29 per 1,000 live births in 2015.

Indonesia's success in reducing child mortality is part of a bigger picture of progress in the East Asia and the Pacific region. Over the same period, countries in East Asia and the Pacific reduced the average number of deaths per 1,000 live births from 58 in 1990 to 17 in 2015.

Indonesia has also made strides in reducing its total fertility rate, which has decreased by an average of 1.3 percent between 1990 to 2013, contributing to greater maternal safety overall. Improvement in maternal health has been impacted by an increase in skilled attendance at births, up from from 36 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 2012.

Indonesia now also boasts a primary school net enrolment ratio of 95 percent, equal to the East Asia and the Pacific regional average.

Yet, despite measured successes, Indonesia still has significant steps to take in creating better lives for children.

Tata Sudrajat, Families First director at Save the Children, noted childhood poverty remains endemic to Indonesia.

"Although Indonesia is already a middle income country according to World Bank standards, nearly 44 million Indonesian children still live on under $2 per day. That's about 50 percent of Indonesia's child population," Tata said on Tuesday.

Tata's remarks mirror the findings of the Unicef report, which noted that 47 percent of all people living in extreme poverty are 18 years old or younger.

Tata said child abuse was a key issue that Indonesia needs to address in order to ensure equitable conditions for its children.

"According to data from government studies on the prevalence of sexual violence against children between the ages of 13 to 18, one in twelve boys are affected. For girls, one in nineteen are affected," Tata said.

"Research on sexual violence against children often finds that the perpetrator is someone who is personally close to the child, which makes children very vulnerable to these sorts of crimes."

Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation in the world, is home to a vast number of youth.

According to 2013 estimates from Unicef, 34.2 percent, or approximately 85 million of Indonesia’s population is under the age of 18.

In comparison, the percentage of under 18 year olds in relation to total national population in neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore is 31.7 percent and 20.1 percent, respectively.

Child protection under review

The release of the Progress on Children report has shed light on the condition of children in Indonesia, at a time when the protection of children has become a focal point of public discourse.

Recent debate on the effectiveness of child protection policies was sparked by the tragic murder of an 8-year-old girl in Bali, whose disappearance in May attracted national attention.

Angeline, who was reported missing on May 16th by her adoptive mother Margaret Christine Megawe, was found buried in the backyard of her family home earlier this month.

Since the discovery, police have detained a former domestic worker for the family, named Agus, as the primary suspect in Angeline's murder.

Authorities also apprehended Margaret, on suspicion of child neglect.

The murder and subsequent police investigation has led to many observers calling for a review of existing child protection laws.

In a statement delivered earlier this month, Social Services Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said that Margaret and her late husband, who was a foreign national, did not follow official adoption procedures when they took in Angeline shortly after her birth.

Meanwhile Hidayat Nur Wahid, a member of the House’s Commission VIII, which oversees religious affairs, social issues, women’s empowerment and children’s welfare, said the commission was preparing a revision of the child protection law.

However Tata, of Save the Children, believes a comprehensive review of existing child protection laws may not be necessary.

"The child protection laws that are in place are already enough," Tata said. "But in terms of law enforcement and implementation, there is still a problem.

"For example, we need to work harder in training our law enforcement officials to become better prepared to deal with instances of child abuse, and the investigation protocol that should follow."

Tata is also advocating for greater public awareness of child abuse and its socio-cultural causes, as a means to better understand and curb violent incidents.

"Many people still think violence against children is allowed by tradition and culture. But tradition cannot be interpreted for all acts of discipline against children," Tata said.

"If parents continue to punish their children with violence, particularly physical violence, they must be persecuted by law."

The Indonesian government's drive to secure the rights of children is rooted in the nation’s constitution.

Chapter X Article 28B2 of the Indonesian Constitution states “every child shall have the right to live, to grow and to develop, and shall have the right to protection from violence and discrimination."

The legal foundation for the protection of children Indonesia was further expounded on with the creation of the 2002 Law on Child Protection.

The law was amended last year and multiple provisions were revised, including the definition of children in Indonesia, the right of children to be protected from abuse, and the obligation of government to support parents and guardians.