Business is Good for Indonesian Orphanages

Indonesian parents facing poverty give up children


JAKARTA, Indonesia – Thirteen-year-old Yulianto has spent half his life in an orphanage, but not because his parents are dead.  His mom and dad, he quietly explained as he stared at the ground, were too poor to feed him and put him through school. And he longs to leave Parapattan Orphanage in central Jakarta and return to them. “I just want to be with my parents, even if it means I cannot get an education,” he said.

Across Indonesia, there are thousands of children like Yulianto. A major survey of the nation’s child care institutions this month found orphanages flooded with children separated from their parents not by death, but because of poverty.

Staff at four Jakarta orphanages and a child protection worker say they expect more of these children as soaring fuel and food prices put greater pressure on already strained families.

“They were already facing problems and the increase in fuel and food prices will certainly make it more difficult,” said Florence Martin, a Save the Children child protection adviser in Jakarta.

Indonesia has up to 500,000 children – or 0.6 percent of the country’s roughly 85 million children – living in institutions, one of the highest rates in the world, the report said. Of those, 90 percent still have one or more parent alive.

World Bank figures show that around half of Indonesia’s 235 million people live on less than $2 a day. Adding to the hardship are soaring prices of staple foods and a 30 percent increase in fuel costs in May.

“I know my children are angry with me, but I try to convince them that is the best choice for us,” said Tinor Niang, a 38-year-old noodle vendor who brought her two sons to Parapattan nine years ago. “As a mother I want to take care of my children but I cannot be selfish. I want the best future for them, so I have no choice.”

The study by U.S.-based charity Save the Children and the Indonesian government was the first detailed look at children’s homes. It surveyed six provinces and analyzed the legal and political issues facing the institutions. The survey found government policy was in part fueling the surge in parents giving up their kids.

As part of efforts to combat poverty, the government has for five years funded orphanages based on the number of children they register, leading religious and social organizations to establish new institutions and actively “recruit” children, the survey found. The survey pointed to a dramatic rise in the number of orphanages – as many as 8,000, up from 1,600 in 1998.

“If you wanted to be mean, you could say running an institution is a pretty good business,” said Martin. “When you’ve got 10 children coming out, you need to find 10 children to come in.”

Makmur Sunusi, director general for social services and rehabilitation at the Welfare Ministry, said the government was looking at ways to help poor families without breaking them up.

Almost all of Indonesia’s children’s homes are privately run, many by Islamic organizations in this majority Muslim country. Nearly half run on less than $10,000 a year, the report found.

In the 36 homes surveyed, the children spent much of the time when they were not at school cooking, cleaning and looking after younger children because the institutions were understaffed.

Staff quoted in the report were not worried about this, saying the children were receiving free food and education and would almost certainly be working in the fields or helping their parents if they had remained at home.

Most children have very little contact with their families – perhaps a brief visit home once a year – because they are too poor to travel, according to the report.

Some institutions discourage relationships between children and their families because “it is believed the moral guidance children get in institutions would be weakened by contact with parents,” Martin said.

Yulianto, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, lives in Parapattan with 65 other kids. The home encourages families to visit, but many parents say they cannot often do so because they lack money and work long hours.

The buildings are clean, but signs of wear and tear are everywhere. Paint peels from the walls, grass grows up between cracked concrete flooring. In the yard, boys use sandals to bat plastic balls over a shredded net.

Farm laborer Noldi Jacob held back tears explaining why he left his children at Parapattan.

“The economic situation is getting more difficult and I cannot depend on my brothers and sisters to pay for my children,” he said. “As a father it pains me to admit that I cannot finance my children, but I believe this orphanage can guide, love and teach them.”

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