Ika Krismantari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Ten-year-old Putri, with her pink hair clip, bright-green-and-yellow earrings and yellow flip-flops is the essence of casual as she goes about her daily work — asking for money from drivers at the busy Tanah Abang intersection in Central Jakarta.
She takes her work lightly and seems to be accustomed to being rejected and told to go away.
Move to the south, to Pejompongan junction, and there are scores of other Putris, skipping between the cars, barefoot and in worn-out clothes.
Some of them have been working at the crossroads for three years, and almost all of them started because their families fell into financial difficulties.
But how do we complete their stories?
‘I will give them money, even if it is only Rp 500, because I know that they need it so much,’ said a private bank officer, Nuni, 28, whose car passes the Pejompongan crossroads every day.
‘Giving street children money is not a good solution. Streets have never been a good place for children. When we give them money, we nurture them to stay on the street,’ Fabio Valentino, a program manager of the Stop Giving Money To Children social organization, told The Jakarta Post.
Fabio, also an activist with nonprofit group Sahabat Anak, said the streets have a serious impact on children’s psychological development.
‘Living on the street means that the children have a greater likelihood of being exposed to violence, physical abuse and exploitation,’ Fabio said.
To protect street children, Sahabat Anak, which was established in 1997, provides shelters, learning community centers and scholarships to get them away from the streets.
The problem is, however, that children often still return to there, Fabio said.
"They like it there because they can earn money easily," he said.
Therefore, in 2005, Sahabat Anak, along with other NGOs, launched Stop Giving Money to Street Children, which was in line with UNICEF’s program to lift up the lives of street children.
"We will intensify the popularization of the program this year, knowing that last year not so many people knew about it," Fabio said.
His organization estimates that Indonesians give coins worth Rp 1.5 billion (US$164,385) to a total of 75,000 street children across the country every day, each of whom earns Rp 20,000 to Rp 30,000.
According to his group’s study, Fabio added, most street children did not spend the money properly, instead using to by snacks and play games.
"In fact, the children may not necessary need the money because they must give what they earn to their parents. Some parents make their children money machines," Fabio said.
An official at the Jakarta Social Welfare Agency, Syaiman, told the Post that poverty was at the root of the street child phenomenon.
"As a solution to financial problems, a lot of parents send their children to the street to beg from passers-by and motorists," Syaiman said.
The agency recorded that the number of street children in Jakarta reached 8,436 in 2005.
Raids and social workers have both been employed by the agency to deal with the problem.
"When we get them, either through raids or a personal approach, we send the kids to one of our shelters, where they can get an education and enough of their basic needs," he said.
Currently, the agency has three shelters, located in Plumpang, North Jakarta, Cengkareng, West Jakarta and Duren Sawit, East Jakarta.
"But the efforts remain futile. The children always return to the streets, knowing that people, who continue to give them money, make the streets a comfortable place for them to earn a living," he said.
The government launched Gerak Mapan, a program designed to discourage people from giving money to street children or buying anything from them, in 2004. An ordinance to support the movement is currently being drawn by the city administration.
"With this, we can also teach the parents that it will be useless to send their children to the streets," Syaiman said.
Fabio suggested public participation would help optimize such measures, particularly if the public could be encouraged to take several concrete actions.
"You can still give money to the children by collecting Rp 500 or Rp 1,000 every day and then donating the money to a trustworthy agency, which can channel it wisely, or you could be an education volunteer for them," Fabio said.
But it might be a little harder than that. As it turns out, most of the city is easily moved by the sight of a small face at the car window.
"It (the program) will take time to happen, while they need the money right away. I can’t just bear the look of those little kids," Sugiyanto, 38, a driver at the Tanah Abang crossroads said after giving Rp 1,000 to street child.
Fabio offered another solution to buying one’s way out of the guilty feeling caused by seeing children in the streets.
"Be their friends, say hello to them, offer them snacks, sweets, and drinks, but don’t give them money," he said.
He added that by doing this, instead of throwing money at them, people will eventually help street children like Putri toward a happy ending.
"I don’t want to be on the street forever. I am embarrassed whenever my friends pass this street," Putri said.