(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Unregistered children at risk

A young mother and her child outside their home near Jakarta. Thousands of children are unregistered in the country.
Esther de Jong/IRIN

Satri Rama's youngest children do not have birth certificates, but that does not bother the 39-year-old mother of five. "We don't need birth certificates, we need to eat," she said, standing in a damp shack in the centre of Indonesia's capital.

With 60 percent of Indonesia's children under five not formally registered, the country ranks among the bottom 20 nations worldwide in child registration, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). The problem is worse in rural areas.

Parents mainly obtain birth certificates so their children can be educated, since a child without one cannot attend school.

However, there are more severe risks for Indonesian children without proof of their birth - it makes them vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking.

Without the ability to establish the legal age or nationality of a child, it is difficult to enforce any laws to protect children from working in hazardous conditions, UNICEF says. In the case of trafficking, repatriation can be difficult.

The agency says 80,000 to 100,000 women and children each year are victims of sexual exploitation or have been trafficked for this reason. Data suggests many are sent to Malaysia and the Middle East, while others are sent to Jakarta or Kalimantan in Borneo. Child prostitution is also on the rise in Indonesia, with one-third of sex workers under 18.

"I know about child trafficking, I saw it on television," said Kusuma Susaut, walking around the neighbourhood with her two-month-old baby boy in a sling. "We just don't have the money right now."


Marianne Kearney/IRIN
Eighteen-month-old William and his mother in Jakarta. On average only 14 percent of Indonesian babies are exclusively breast fed.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Quand le lait maternisé tue au lieu de sauver
Eighteen-month-old William and his mother in Jakarta. On average only 14 percent of Indonesian babies are exclusively breast fed.

Photo: Marianne Kearney/IRIN
Sixty percent of Indonesian children under the age of five are not registered

Government strategy

Indonesia's 2002 Child Protection Law requires the state to register newborns and provide free birth certificates, but national data reviewed by UNICEF shows only a 2 percent increase in registrations since its adoption.

In December 2008, the government announced a new strategy aimed at registering all children by 2011.

"Through this strategic plan, we hope that all children are registered, and the quality of our birth registration improves along with increased community participation," said Rasyid Saleh, Director-General on Population Administration with Indonesia's Ministry of Home Affairs, at the launch of the strategy.

But in a small Jakarta neighbourhood, Agustine Novayanti, 24, said she had never heard of the government's campaign. Cooking soup outside her one-room house, she told IRIN that her two-year-old boy, Bima, was unregistered.

If she had registered her child within 60 days of his birth, the certificate would have been free. Now, it could cost her as much as 300,000 Indonesian rupiah, or about US$30 - which she cannot afford.

Like most people in their neighbourhood, Novayanti and Rama live on less than $2 a day, along with some 100 million other Indonesians. It is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, and 2008 figures from the Indonesian Statistics Bureau show almost ten million unemployed.

Sugeng, a community leader, told IRIN: "The longer they wait, the more expensive it gets. They spend everything they have on the birth, and then there is nothing left. Most people here just have enough to get by on a daily basis."

Although birth certificates should be free, hospitals and medical officials charge customers.

But the problems go beyond the relatively high costs, said Astrid Dionisio, a UNICEF child protection specialist.

"It has also something to do with the whole system of birth registration. National laws should be adopted on a local level, because it has [an] implication [for] revenue and budget," she told IRIN.

With 6,000 inhabited islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, and remote areas are hard to reach.

"It is difficult and costly for a lot of villagers to come to do the registration," she added.


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