Street kids need to be kept away from streets
Seven-year-old one-legged Ni Luh Merti, not her real name, has called the streets of Kuta her playground and her place of business for the past five years.
Every day, through the afternoon until midnight, Merti, with the support of her crutch, roams the streets to sell bead bracelets made by her mother in their rented room in west Denpasar.
“I give about Rp 50,000 [US$5.3] to Rp 100,000 a day to my mom,” she said. When asked what her father’s work was, Merti replied, “Dad does metajen.” Metajen is gambling on cockfights.
Merti is only one of hundreds of children who have become street vendors and beggars, locally known as gepeng. At night, they are befriended by the nightlife, alcohol, violence and crimes, while during the day, these child beggars, some carrying babies in their arms, are seen wandering around at various traffic intersections and main roads, including Simpang Siur, Sunset Road, Imam Bonjol and Teuku Umar.
The Badung traditional market in Denpasar also serves as another area for children to earn money from begging or working as tukang suwun (porters). “Children get customers more easily, because the customers pity them,” said Ketut Putri, a vendor at the market.
Data from the Children’s Foundation (Lembaga Anak Bangsa-LAB) records around 200 children working as porters and beggars at Badung market. LAB chairwoman Sri Wahyuni cited that most of them had never experienced school, or had dropped out of elementary school. These children had no access to healthcare and lived in poor conditions, usually crammed together with three to five children in a small rented room.
Data from the labor, transmigration and social affairs agency in Denpasar showed that up to 50 child beggars have been caught monthly by public order officials. Last year, around 348 beggars, mostly children, were caught and sent home to their villages.
For dozens of years now, the administration has run a failing program of catching and sending street children back to their villages, notoriously often located in the less-developed territory of Karangasem regency.
“After we send them home, they usually return to their streets. Some children are caught more than once a month,” acknowledged I Nyoman Suryawan from the Labor, Transmigration and Social Affairs Agency in Denpasar.
LAB chairwoman Sri, who is also the former chairwoman of the Bali office of the National Commission for Child Protection, pointed out that the Karangasem administration was required to participate seriously in running the program and should provide counseling, education and alternative skills training.
In the middle of this year, Denpasar administration plans to start running a half-way house on Jl. Bypass IB Mantra as a protection and training center, and to cooperate with nearby orphanages to take care of children who have been abandoned by their parents.
Meanwhile, the Denpasar administration is currently discouraging the public from giving money to beggars by placing large banners at major intersections and on streets where the child beggars are operating.