Desy Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The government should take effective measures to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among street children as they are among the highest at-risk groups in Indonesia, groups said Wednesday.
National Commission for the Protection of Children secretary-general Ariest Merdeka Sirait said street children are very susceptible to HIV/AIDS because many of them are involved in promiscuous sexual behavior and are injecting drug users.
“The spread of HIV/AIDS among street children should be tackled immediately, otherwise it will lead to a worse situation,” he told The Jakarta Post. “The problem is that most of them lack knowledge about reproductive health and about how to protect themselves from the infection.”
He said street children have been excluded from the government-sponsored program to fight HIV/AIDS cases among high-risk communities, such as sex workers and drug users.
A 2006 study, conducted by the Indonesian Save the Children Foundation in several big cities across the country, revealed that street children were in particular danger of contracting HIV.
It found most of the at-risk children were involved in drug use and prostitution but few knew about the dangers of injecting drugs and unprotected sex.
Husein Habsyi, vice chairman of Pelita Ilmu Foundation — a non-governmental organization dealing with HIV/AIDS-related problems, said more than 90 percent of street children in Jakarta who were also drug users, were HIV positive.
“Of the 1,000 children, 200 of them have undergone laboratory tests. And 193 of them are positive,” he told the Post, adding that the ratio remained constant over the years.
He urged the government to take action.
“More must be done, not only preventive measures, but also curative. Those already infected should also be referred to health centers to get proper treatment.
“The program can be conducted in the form of youth-friendly counseling through youth centers, where they can have fun and learn how to protect themselves from infection.”
Habsyi also suggested a training program for health officials so that they would be better prepared for dealing with street children.
Health Ministry data shows that as of June, there were 5,813 HIV cases and 9,689 AIDS cases in Indonesia.
Separately, director of services and social rehabilitation at the Social Services Ministry Susanti Herlambang said her office, in cooperation with United Nations Children’s Fund and NGOs, is working on a project to give support to children with HIV/AIDS, particularly those from poor families.
“We also give working skills for their families and knowledge about how to treat their children,” she said.