All children, of all ages and in all countries, risk being among Covid-19’s biggest victims, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. Text by Sari Widiati
The world has set aside special days to celebrate children: there is World Children’s Day and International Children’s Day on 1 June. In Indonesia itself, every 23 July is the day to commemorate National Children’s Day (NCD) based on Presidential Decree No. 44 Year 1984.
At that time, on 23 July 1984, it may well be one of the most important days in the then President Soeharto’s life. His third child Bambang Trihatmodjo celebrated being 31 years old, and for the first time in history the government held a National Children’s Day celebration. From the National Palace he congratulated all the children in the country and said, “Be happy and grow up to be healthy, intelligent children, obedient to parents, obedient to teachers and fathers, piety to God Almighty and love for your beautiful and huge homeland.”
The commemoration of NCD is interpreted as the concern of the entire Indonesian nation for the protection of Indonesian children so that they can grow and develop optimally, by encouraging Indonesian families to become the first and main institution in providing protection to children, so that the next generation will be healthy, intelligent, cheerful, with noble character and love their country.
Thirty-two years after the inaugural National Children’s Day was celebrated, the Varkey Foundation Survey in the UK (September-October 2016) found Indonesian children aged 15-21 years to be the happiest children in the world—with a net score of 90 percent. “This may suggest that living in a relatively prosperous and economically developed country does not necessarily guarantee happiness,” said the research team at the Varkey Foundation, as reported by the BBC.
The survey also explains that when young people in various countries feel pessimistic about their future, young people in Indonesia, China, and India actually show optimism. “For young people in Indonesia, optimism for the future is due to the values that support peace they hold, while the biggest worries for the future are conflict and war.”
At the same time, Indonesian children, especially in remote areas, were very much affected by the high cases of malnutrition and stunting, not to mention the problem of violence and education.
Now 37 years since that first NCD celebration, Indonesian children still face very diverse challenges, especially since the pandemic. During 2020, based on the number of cases submitted to the complaint section of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) reached as many as 6,519 where the trend of the highest child protection cases were cases in the family and alternative care sectors with 1,622 cases, cases in the education sector as many as 1,567 , in the field of children dealing with the law a total of 1,098 cases, and the four fields of pornography and cybercrime a horrifying 651 cases.
The areas of child protection cases most reported to KPAI related to the field of family and alternative care are cases of children who are victims of problematic care, parental or family conflicts and the education sector is policy cases mostly concerning distance learning. While the field of children dealing with the law is the case of children as victims of sexual violence and in the field of pornography and cybercrime are cases of children who have been abused by perpetrators and owner of pornographic media.
Based on the trend of child protection cases over the last three years, when compared to the data entered into the KPAI, in 2020 there has been a change in the trend of child protection cases, which were usually the highest for cases of children in conflict with the law now becoming cases in the education sector, which soared much higher.
“Cyber cases were rising but when Covid hit the world, education cases which were also quite high even at the beginning of the pandemic, greatly increased. I think it is understandable because the complaints reported to KPAI are indeed quite diverse. Most are regarding access to education, poor educational services, and incompetent teachers where virtual iteaching and learning is not easy, and includes cases of limited access.” said Susanto, Head of KPAI.
Based on the results of KPAI monitoring in various regions, the number of children dropping out of school was also quite high during the pandemic, especially children from poor families. Monitoring was carried out with direct supervision for the cities of Bandung and Cimahi, and online interviews with teachers and principals of the teacher network of the Federation of Indonesian Teachers’ Unions (FSGI) in February 2021. There are five reasons why children drop out of school, namely marriage, work, arrears in school fees, addiction to online games and death.
UNICEF believes that the current situation caused by Covid-19 could have long-term consequences for the safety, welfare and future of children in Indonesia if immediate action is not taken. This was stated by the UN agency in a report entitled Covid-19 and Children in Indonesia: Action Agenda to Overcome Socio-Economic Challenges regarding the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and recommendations for overcoming them.
Covid-19 itself has widely destabilized the incomes of Indonesian families. Most of them are not covered by the social security system that targets people in extreme poverty. However, sudden loss of jobs and income can trigger situations of poverty for millions of children. This threatens the performance of nutrition, education, and child protection and can exacerbate existing inequalities related to gender, income, and vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities.
We greatly hope that National Children’s Day will bring increased recognition of the challenges facing children all across Indonesia and encourage both the Government and the private sector including relevant NGOs to redouble their efforts to rescue children from all abusive and dangerous situations.