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JAKARTA, Feb 9 2010 (IPS) - Two years after the economic recession forced her out of school, 20-year-old Nurul Kumala is now back in classes – mobile classes, that is.
More than 60 students attend the Bintaro Mobile Class, which has vans going to four class sites with text and reading books, equipment for science experiments and other educational materials.
Mobile classes can also be found in Senen in Central Jakarta, Manggarai in South Jakarta, and Bantar Gebang in Bekasi, West Java. Each site has classes twice a week. The Bintaro Mobile Class holds classes every Tuesday and Thursday.
Since 2008, Komnas Anak or the National Commission for Child Protection, in collaboration with Mutiara Indonesia Foundation, has been running mobile classes designed for street children and student dropouts.
“We set up the mobile classes for street children in order for them to attend school whenever, wherever, and with whomever. It’s sort of home schooling for street children,” said Komnas Anak chairman Seto Mulyadi, a noted child’s rights activist.
Half of the students in the Bintaro class are dropouts of elementary, junior high and senior high schools who sell newspapers, bottled water, homemade snacks and cigarettes, or busk on streets to earn a living. The rest come from poor families who can no longer afford to send their children to formal education.
Kumala, the eldest of four siblings, said she and four other senior high school dropouts joined the classes in order to qualify for the national exams in March and possibly enroll at a university later this year.
“The classes are cool. I learn a lot here. The teachers are also very friendly and I can find new friends,” she said.
Kumala dropped out of school in mid-2008, just weeks after she moved up to the third year of a senior high school in South Jakarta. Her father is a daily contract worker, and her mother, a homemaker. Being the eldest child in the family and seeing that her parents were having a hard time coping, she felt obliged to help her parents and younger siblings.
“I did many kinds of jobs. First, I worked as a freelance sales promotion girl at motorcycle exhibitions, then became a public telephone kiosk attendant before moving to an airconditioner shop and many other jobs,” she said. At each job, she earned about 200,000 rupiah (23 U.S. dollars), far below Jakarta’s minimum wage of about 110 dollars per month. Desina Rani, 23, who dropped out of senior high school in West Jakarta in 2005 and opened a cellular phone counter near her house in South Jakarta, is also a Bintaro class student. “My business did not make any profit. I decided to attend the classes in order to have a better future,” said Rani, the sixth of eight siblings.
Poor youngsters suffered the brunt of the 2008-2009 economic crisis, according to Komnas Anak. It says that 2.5 million of 26.3 million children aged between 7 and 15 had no access to the nine-year mandatory education in 2009, while 1.87 million of 12.89 million children aged between 13 and 15 have no access to education at all.
Many dropouts turned up on the streets selling newspapers, cigarettes, bottled water or snacks, or working as buskers, raising the number of street children from 36,000 in 1997 to some 233,000 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.
“The crisis has worsened poverty and violations of children’s rights such as their rights to education and health services,” said Mulyadi.
Komnas Anak received 1,998 complaints of violence against children in 2009, up from 1,736 in 2008. At least 62.7 percent of those involved sexual violence, including sodomy, rape and incest, and the rest were physical and psychological violence.
“Ironically, these cases of violence mostly took place in the family, schools, educational institutions, and children’s social environment,” the commission said in its 2009 year-end report.
At the same time, it recorded 1,258 children committing crimes such as rape, drugs, gambling and assault in the same year. “Almost 90 percent of children committing crimes ended with conviction and imprisonment, and the rest were turned over to the Ministry of Social Affairs or their parents,” the report said.
In 2009, the commission received reports of 836 child trafficking cases, up from 507 the year before.
Mulyadi said the government’s response to the plight of children has been marginal compared to its response to the 1997-1998 financial and economic crisis.
“The government has not done enough to protect the rights of children,” Mulyadi said. He recalled that the 1997-1998 crisis prompted campaigns to protect children’s rights, leading to the promulgation of the child protection law in 2002.
“The fact that street children are lingering around the Ministry of Social Affairs, the governor’s office and presidential office shows that the government pays little attention to problems of children in the country,” he pointed out.
He added that the government seems to view children as sources of problems and not victims of government’s failure to meet their needs. “The rights of children are violated twice, once when their rights are not met, and twice when they are considered as problems, and not victims,” he said.
Harry Hikmat, director of the children social service of the Ministry of Social Affairs, has no doubt that the crisis hit Indonesia’s youngsters hard. “The BPS (Central Statistics Agency) is yet to release the number of neglected children in 2009, but the figure is expected to rise by seven percent from 5.4 million children in 2006,” Hikmat told IPS.
In 2008, the Ministry of Social Affairs introduced the Social Transfer Programme to help children in need of special protection such as victims of exploitation, violence, child trafficking and negligence as well as children in emergency situations.
“Some programmes are aimed at meeting basic needs such as nutrition for children below five years old. For poor children already in schools, we provide them with textbooks, uniforms, shoes, transportation and other needs that improve their accessibility to education,” Hikmat said.
While Indonesia’s anti-poverty programmes have managed to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, these have failed to reduce the number of neglected children, he explained.
According to BPS, the number of Indonesia’s poor continued to decrease from 37 million in 2007 to 34.9 million in 2008, and to 32 million in 2009. The country’s population stands at 220 million.
“Well-funded anti-poverty programmes are focusing more on income generation and economic growth, and none on human resources such as teaching poor families to spend their increased income on their children’s education,” Hikmat said.
Volunteers and trained teachers from Mulyadi’s Home Schooling Programme teach in mobile classes twice a week, using curriculum drawn from the national education programme.
Otty Wikrama, a volunteer teacher for the Bintaro Mobile Class, said that aside from limited funding, one of the biggest challenges a teacher faces is motivating the children to come to class regularly. “Most street children attending the classes already have their own income and don’t really see the importance of education. But we’re determined to put an end to the chain of ignorance with our limited funds,” Wikrama said.
(*This feature was produced by IPS Asia-Pacific under a series on the impact of the global economic crisis on children and young people, in partnership with UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific.)
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