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Jakarta Post

Sexual abuse and unsafe sex haunt city’s street children

  • Indra Budiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 23, 2016   /  10:48 am
Sexual abuse and unsafe sex haunt city’s street children Women Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Yambise (left)pays a visit to suspects detained over the alleged exploitation of children at the South Jakarta Police Office on March 27. The four suspects are alleged to have forced children to work as street beggars and or buskers in Jakarta. (Kompas.com/Kahfi Dirga Cahya)

A teenage girl was sitting on the sidewalk in front of Pasar Minggu market in South Jakarta with other children her age when suddenly a little boy ran into her arms.

“Have you eaten something?” the girl, who wished to remain anonymous, asked the boy who then shook his head. Soon afterwards she asked one of her friends to buy some bread at the nearest shop for her son.

“This boy is my son but all of my friends here consider him their son as well,” she told The Jakarta Post recently. “That’s one of the perks of raising your child in the street.”

Many children in Jakarta who feel that they do not fit into their families, or who are simply no longer acknowledged by their parents, are opting to live in the streets with others who have similar stories.

Some of the homeless get food and shelter from charities, but others live under bridges or in garbage dumps and find food for themselves, a situation that potentially turns even more ugly with the addition of unsafe sexual behavior or sexual abuse.

The AIDS Research Center at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Jakarta recently found that without their parents’ supervision, street children were exposed to romantic and sexual relationships for which they had received no guidance, or example to look up to.

For preliminary research, the organization visited 43 street children in Jakarta aged between 15 and 18 years. Kekek Apriana, one of the researchers, said that during a focus group discussion, the children told her that according to their definition, a relationship happened when a couple did various activities together including eating, kissing, using drugs and drinking alcohol.

“From the groups of teenage girls that I talked with, two were pregnant and another girl had a 2-yearold son,” Kekek said in a recent interview, adding that none of them were married.

She added that every group of street children had an adult that they considered their big brother. The guy, usually around 30 years old or older, protects them in the street from being taken by officers of the Jakarta Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) or Jakarta Social Agency.

However, the “big brother” is sometimes the person who also exploits and abuses the girls, claiming that it is a form of protection. Unsafe sex using balloons for contraception and under bridges leaves the children very vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

Sexual exploitation is a fact of life for these girls and conditions are not so different for the boys. Kekek said that in the focus group discussions the boys had shared that some of them were dependent on an older woman or transsexual who they paid back with sexual activity.

“This is the scenario for our street children that gets overlooked by the government and the city administration,” she said.

The current government program on street children, she continued, merely focused on getting them off the street instead of learning about what they were exposed in their lives on the street. “They are only taken to city institutions to learn how to sew before getting released a few months later. That is not the answer,” she said. “They need the right information and access to medical services.”

Based on recent data released by the Jakarta Social Agency, there are 787 street children in Jakarta, most of them located in West Jakarta and East Jakarta.

Arum Ratnawati, national chief technical advisor of the International Labor Organization (ILO) said the root of the problem of street children was there still being a large number of people living in poverty and forcing their children to make ends meet on the street.

“Another problem is law enforcement. We already have a law protecting children from working on the street, but the implementation need to be improved,” she said.

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