Jail for giving to beggars…

Jail for giving to beggars…

    July 04 2008 at 08:37AM

Jakarta – People in an Indonesian city who give in to the tug of charity could face three months in jail under a law making it illegal to give money to beggars and street children.

The law, approved in June by the legislative council in Makassar, South Sulawesi, is meant to reduce the city’s swelling population of beggars, Mayor Ilham Arif Sirajuddin said.

"Under the law, people who give money to beggars will be jailed up to three months or have to pay a maximum fine of 1.5-million rupiah (about R1800)," he said. "This is an important decision to clear beggars from the streets."

Beggars and street children face three years in jail or fines up to five-million rupiah but the crackdown has come along with a programme to train beggars for work.

The population of beggars and street children in Makassar jumped from 870 in 2006 to 2600 in 2008, the mayor said. – Sapa-AFP


Free school offers hope for Jakarta street children

Free school offers hope for Jakarta street children
Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:27pm EDT
By Lenita Sulthani

JAKARTA (Reuters) – For Qodir, who ekes out a living collecting garbage in the Indonesian capital, an elementary school diploma was just a dream, until he enrolled at a free school for street children three years ago.

A group of activists has set up a makeshift school in one of Jakarta’s crowded slums, providing children and their parents with free lessons and practical training such as sewing and motorbike repairs.

"I am very happy that we have this school here. I hope the school will be here forever," said 13-year-old Qodir, who goes by one name like many Indonesians.

Last year, the school, run by the Nanda Dian Nusantara foundation, enrolled him for elementary school national exams to obtain a diploma. He said he planned to continue his study at an Islamic school in June this year.

Children working as beggars, food hawkers and garbage collectors are a common sight on the streets of Jakarta, many earning as little as $1 a day.

The children have often been sent out onto the streets by impoverished parents who can’t support their families, and as a result, are deprived of an education.

At the makeshift school equipped with wooden tables, dozens of child workers sit on the floor, receiving lessons for two hours in the morning and another two hours in the afternoon.

It is often tough to get the children to attend classes since many have to work to help their parents, who are mostly garbage collectors.

The children work in car workshops, collect garbage, shine shoes, sell newspapers or take care of younger siblings. Finding two meals a day is a full-time occupation.

"I want to study and work at the same time," said Khayrul, 12, who earns between 10,000-15,000 rupiah per day ($1.07-$1.60) as a garbage collector and joined the school two months ago.

He dropped out of school last year when his mother died and he left his home town in Central Java to live in Jakarta with his uncle.

Elvrina Diyanti, a volunteer teacher, said the school tries to adjust classes to the children’s working hours.

"We have discussed it with students and parents so that we can have more students in the class. We try to make it very flexible," she said.

She said many of the children do not attend classes regularly and teachers have to be a little bit more patient.

The foundation also teaches illiterate parents to read and provides vocational training such as sewing, cooking and other skills so that they can earn extra income, said Desy Handayani, one of the foundation’s activists.

Roostien Ilyas, 58, started the foundation in 1990. There are now hundreds of free schools for children and women across the country.

"We don’t teach them how to live their lives because they know," said Ilyas, who trained as an English teacher.

Ilyas said her experience in handling traumatized children in several disaster and conflict-hit areas across Indonesia has opened her eyes to the lack of government support for children.

In East Java, where a mud volcano forced about 15,000 people to abandon their homes, Ilyas said it is proving hard to find a safe location and funding for the displaced children.

Some scientists say the flow of hot mud in Sidoarjo regency, near the city of Surabaya, was caused by a gas drilling operation by PT Lapindo Brantas. Lapindo is partly owned by the family of Indonesia’s chief social welfare minister, Aburizal Bakrie.

Ilyas said she worried about conditions for the children in this area because their parents have been made homeless and jobless by the disaster.

"I am very disappointed with the government. They never think seriously about children’s problems in this country," she said.

(Writing by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Sophie Hardach)

Street children the focus of special day in Jakarta

Street children the focus of special day in Jakarta

Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Laughter and shrieks of joy filled the Kridaloka complex at the Gelora Bung Karno sports center Sunday, where more than 300 street children gathered to enjoy a day of fun with their friends.

The event, themed Sowing Love Reaping Hope, was organized by Sahabat Anak (Friends of the Children), a non-profit organization focused on providing education to impoverished children.

During the day, the children took part in several activities and games, including races, animal hunting and face painting.

As part of the program, families with two children were invited to play games with the street children under the supervision of volunteers.

Eleven-year-old Evi, who lives near the railway tracks in Manggarai, South Jakarta, negotiated an obstacle course with her "new family".

She ran out onto a wooden pole, jumped over several tires, climbed a net made from rope and slid down a slide with new "brothers" Rio and Ryan, while their parents Arni and Budi watched from the sidelines.

Arni and Budi, a couple from Joglo in West Jakarta, attended the event after hearing about it from a family friend.

"We want to teach our children to share with other children and to be grateful for what they have," Arni said.

Susi, a Sahabat Anak volunteer, said interest in the program had grown in recent years.

"However, we didn’t have many families participating today, so we also involved steady couples and singles in the games," said Susi, who has worked with the non-governmental organization since 2006.

U.S. citizen Troy Landis, who joined the Prumpung branch of Sahabat Anak in 2006, also participated in Sunday’s activities.

Sahabat Anak’s Prumpung branch in East Jakarta is one of seven educational shelters the organization operates.

The organization primarily offers street children support and education and sometimes even reunites them with their parents.

Landis said joining the organization gave his life new meaning but after moving to Surabaya in East Jakarta last year he was unable to participate in many Sahabat Anak activities.

"I came to Jakarta just for this occasion. I miss the children," he said.

Another volunteer, Friska, said she had been involved with the organization since 1998.

Aside from watching the children grow, Friska said she had witnessed some street children giving birth at a very young age.

"Sometimes we have to give financial or legal support to the children’s families," she said.

Sitta Manurung from Sahabat Anak said the event was held to encourage Jakartans to become friends with street children.

Established in 1997, Sahabat Anak holds annual jamborees for street children in the capital.

"We want to encourage all people in Jakarta to be friends with street children. We hope they will offer the children support," Sitta said.

Sitta said people interested in the organization could visit http://www.sahabatanak.com for more information.

"Even though funding is important, most of the children just need love and attention from the public," she said.

Susilo Adinegoro from Sanggar Akar, another NGO focused on the welfare of street children, said more could be done to reduce the number of children forced to live on the streets.

"I hope there will be a deal struck between communities that care for street children and the city administration, so when the administration wants to make a new regulation we can also be involved in relevant discussions," Susilo said.

Group works to help street children

 Group works to help street children


JAKARTA: A community of young professionals and university students will introduce Jakarta residents to street children in an event on Feb. 17 in Senayan, Central Jakarta.

"The event is being held to introduce people to street children in the hope they will offer them support. It could be a solution to this social problem," Sahabat Anak (Friends of Children) executive Benyamin Lumy said Wednesday, as quoted by Antara.

The organization was formed in 1997 after several young professionals and students organized a jamboree for street children.

It now runs seven educational shelters for more than 300 street children across Jakarta.

The organization offers street children support and an education, and sometimes even reunites children with their parents.

"We feel we have to do something to help these marginalized children rather than staying silent," Benyamin said. — JP

Anto Baret: Finding strength in numbers

Anto Baret: Finding strength in numbers
January 29, 2008
Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Malang

Many people look down on street children, but Anto Trisno, 50, treats them like they are his own flesh and blood.

"I want people to regard street children as their own family. They are our children; the children of the nation. They also want to lead regular lives. Unfortunately they don’t have the resources we do," he said

Instead of avoiding street children, people should give them the chance to express themselves, Anto told a discussion on the book A Note on 25 Years with Street Children, Jakarta 1982-2007 at the Malang Public Library in East Java.

"The street is not their home, the street is not their refuge, the street is their life. They only need a space to survive," said the musician, who is nicknamed Anto Baret because he likes wearing berets.

Anto is the founder of the Street Musicians Group (KPJ) in Bulungan, South Jakarta.

It all began in 1980, when Anto left his hometown of Malang for Jakarta, after dropping out of the National Institute of Technology in his eighth semester.

He saw street musicians singing on buses — passing the bucket — and quickly made friends with them. Anto said the youngsters in the KPJ were both resilient and self-reliant.

"I had nothing when I came to Jakarta. But I survived. Why? Because Jakarta’s homeless are resilient. They have developed their own coping strategies based on honesty and sincerity.

"But my feeling is street children, buskers in particular, are being treated unfairly," Anto said.

According to him, there used to be just two places in Jakarta for street musicians to perform: in Pasar Kaget (it was located next to Martha Tiahahu Park) and in Pecenongan. But there were many thugs in the area and they demanded Rp 4,000 from each of the musicians daily.

"Rp 4,000 was not a small amount of money for buskers at that time," Anto said.

In an effort to protect the musicians from the thugs, in 1982 Anto asked them to establish the KPJ. Finding strength in numbers, the KPJ members refuse to keep paying the thugs.

A fight broke out between the two groups, with the street musicians emerging victorious.

They again showed their fighting spirit before they held a performance, the 82 Street Singing Action, in 1982. It was their first performance, but they had failed to obtain a permit from the authorities.

Inevitably, the police showed up to shut down the concert. But, led by singer Neno Warisman, the members of the organizing committee, jumped up onto the stage and burst into a boisterous rendition of the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.

The police felt they had no other choice but to join in. After they had finished singing the song, Neno announced the show was over.

When the police questioned them, Anto said they had held the performance to celebrate the establishment of the KPJ. There were no arrests that day

Unfortunately, the legendary singer Iwan Fals, who was scheduled to perform, arrived late.

"Living on the street teaches us to be brave. If we are brave, we will win. There is no room for arrogance. We need to focus our efforts on staying on the straight and narrow," Anto said.

The KPJ was established to help street children because they are often excluded, due to a lack of access to birth certificates and other forms of identification

"It is those without a clear identity who need the most help. Even children who live with their parents are naughty, so what happens to children who lack adult supervision?" Anto said.

Therefore the KPJ also teaches youngsters living on the streets good manners: how to behave and to speak softly when adults are present.

According to Anto, who is married to Diah Anggraini and has three children — Sulih Savitri Anggunsari, Suluh Gembyeng Ciptadi, and Diah Puspa Jingga — street children must live in harmony because they share the same fortune. They are encouraged to shake hands to maintain their good relations and to show their thankfulness.

The children also learn that the older ones should be ready to protect the younger ones.

Members with musical skills should teach those who do not know about music. All members are also told to read the newspaper. If they do not understand the content, they should discuss it among themselves.

In order to make the community stronger, Anto has introduced the "three don’ts": don’t do crime, don’t fight against each other, and don’t do drugs.

The KPJ has also branched out to other cities including Bogor and Bandung in West Java; Yogyakarta; Surabaya, East Java; Banda Aceh; and Palu, Central Sulawesi.

There are more than 100,000 KPJ members, a fact that politicians may find interesting in election years.

The youngsters, however, are aware of their rights and not easily influenced, Anto said.

He is in the process of producing a cassette of his music. "The proceeds will go to the KPJ," Anto said.

Festival brings children off the streets

Festival brings children off the streets

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Laughter burst out among dozens of children as a clown played word games during a festival Sunday. Jumping and raising their hands, the children scrambled to receive colorful flags from the famous Ronald McDonald.

A joyous atmosphere welcomed more than 300 street children from across Jakarta gathered to express their talents and creativity in the 2007 Street Children Art and Technology Festival, which took place at the state junior high school SMPN 71 in Central Jakarta.

The inaugural festival, held by Melati Social Work Group in cooperation with PT Excelmindo, used dozens of rumah singgah (temporary shelters for street children) to perform plays and music shows, as well as to showcase a technology exhibition and a market.

Festival project officer R. Novian Kurniawan said the event was aimed at promoting street children’s activities to the public while also encouraging children to spend their time developing useful skills.

"In the long term, we aim to get the children off the streets by keeping them busy at the shelters," he said, adding the festival was also held to develop street children’s abilities and knowledge in art and technology.

Children performed 15 plays, acting out folk stories from across Indonesia as part of the festival’s focus on cultural education.

"This is the moment for us to learn moral values from folk stories by street children," Novian said.

One of the street children, Iskandar, told The Jakarta Post he was glad to meet many new friends in the festival.

"I’m also happy to promote my rumah singgah and our activities to other people," said the 17-year-old boy, who usually sings on buses to make money.

Iskandar has lived in Rumah Singgah Sekar the past three years, after leaving his home in Sunter, North Jakarta, and takes part in activities at the shelter such as paper-making and handicrafts.

"We even export our handicrafts to Singapore and Malaysia," he said.

Iskandar and many other street children also had the chance to take free computer and Internet courses during the festival.

"I want to master the technology even though I realize I’m not as lucky as other children," Iskandar said.

Another street child, Tri Hariyanti from Rumah Singgah Madani, shared her story on learning how to produce aluminum kitchenware.

"It was hard in the beginning, but I enjoy it," she said, adding that she felt lucky to be able to develop new skills.

Agusman, head of the Jakarta Temporary Shelter Forum, said his team hoped to provide more activities for street children, as the new bylaw on public order prohibits them from working on the street.

"There are still more job opportunities available to them, such as delivering newspapers and starting their own businesses," he said.

"There’s still a bright future for them, as long as they get support from all of us."

Activist gives street children opportunity to flourish

Activist gives street children opportunity to flourish

City News – Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Facing the attitude that street children are no good for society, Ibe Karyanto took steps to build Sanggar Akar in South Jakarta in the mid 1990s.

It has become a home and a school for hundreds of underprivileged children, some of whom have already spread their wings and flown to better futures.

"People often regard street children as useless and dangerous … but they are not, they just haven’t had an opportunity to develop their skills," Ibe said.

Ibe, who is currently in Central Java building another facility similar to Sanggar Akar, first became involved with street children when he joined the Jakarta Social Institute (ISJ) in the early 1990s.

The institute, which focuses on social issues, was founded by Father Sandiawan, a priest and human rights activist who won a Yap Thiam Hien award in 1996.

Ibe became involved with the institute when he came from Semarang to Jakarta to study theology at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy. His friends introduced him to ISJ and he was asked to assist street children in criminal and harassment cases.

He soon decided to commit himself to working for abandoned children, giving up his first ambition to become a Catholic priest.

"Sanggar Akar was initially established as part of ISJ. In 2000 we decided to become independent," Ibe told The Jakarta Post during a recent phone interview.

Sanggar Akar is concerned that formal education fails to accommodate street children, he said.

"Street children mostly come from broken homes; some don’t even know who their parents are. They may also be victims of domestic violence."

Sanggar Akar, meaning literally "roots studio", gives children freedom to learn what they like. Children who like music spend their time playing musical instruments, while those interested in theater practice drama. Children also have the opportunity to study English speaking and writing.

Ivonne, the current coordinator of the Jakarta studio, said children adapted well to the flexible approach and had earned their own achievements.

"They frequently receive invitations to perform on national stages. Every year the kids are asked to perform at Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center," she said.

"Many schools also invite them to perform for Christmas or Idul Fitri celebrations. They tour to several cities including Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta and Surabaya."

From Sanggar Akar, some children have gone on to begin a career. Many run their own small businesses while several have become teachers at prestigious schools.

Andre, 26, for example, joined Sanggar in 1994 and now teaches music at Pangudi Luhur primary school in South Jakarta.

"A … mother who supports Sanggar asked me to compose the musical score for recycled instruments, like empty cans, for her daughter’s graduation ceremony performance."

He said the school principle was interested in his unique talents and later asked him to teach an extra-curricula music class for students.

Andre first came to Sanggar when Ivonne came to his house to invite him to learn music.

"At the time I had just graduated from junior high school," he said.

"I told my parents I didn’t want to go to school anymore because I hated it."

He said school only left him with bad memories. "I was beaten by my sport teacher when I didn’t pass a basketball to my classmate."

At Sanggar he got an opportunity to learn how to play the violin, guitar and many other instruments.

Andre, who still lives at Sanggar, also divided his time teaching music to his juniors at the studio.

"The school relies heavily on its alumni because we cannot afford to hire professional teachers," Ivonne said.

"Besides teaching here, they also donate their income, to keep Sanggar running."

She said Sanggar relies on donors known as Akar "friends". Besides donating money, they also give food and other basic items.

"Financial problems always exist. What we worry about most is when children can not afford to eat," Ivonne said.

Somehow, the lack of funds does not stop the children from developing their talents. Empty cans and water containers are used to make music.

"We play with these materials every day," Unang, 20, said while drumming on a set of used cans.

"We are practicing for a performance for Sanggar’s birthday on Nov. 22.

"We will combine tin music with traditional instruments, like jembe (traditional percussion). It may sound primitive to some people but we’re proud of our creativity, turning garbage into music," Unang said. (lln)

Street kids’ lives rewritten in recycled paper

BLANK SHEETS: A worker makes new sheets of paper from a pulp mixture of waste-paper, water hyacinth and onion peels. JP/Agnes Winarti

Street kids’ lives rewritten in recycled paper

Agnes Winarti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

There is a power of healing in recycled paper. A great one, according to some street children.

For them, recycling paper is a way to recover their dignity as human beings.

"We recycle waste paper with banana fronds, cogon grass, water hyacinth, onion peels and other organic stuff that is mostly thrown away," said Hendra, 20, who lived on the streets of Jakarta for six years before joining the workshop.

"My life is just like the paper recycling process. I was saved from the streets. I learned to become a person with more dignity by participating in this gallery," Hendra told The Jakarta Post at his shelter, the K’Qta gallery, in Kampung Bendungan Melayu, North Jakarta.

The gallery is a workshop for street children to make handicrafts and organic recycled paper, which are sold in both the domestic market and abroad, including Japan, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

"I noticed that people used to disregard me when I was on the streets, but now things have changed. When people see my creations, they show appreciation," said Hendra, who has sold his work in the gallery for the past four years.

The young craftsmen are free to express their creativity in making handicrafts that range from shopping bags, photo frames, pencil cases, gift boxes and souvenir glasses, as well as reflexology massage tools.

They are also free to experiment in creating paper with different textures, using sheep wool, straw and even human hair from nearby beauty salons.

The gallery is home to 13 former street children rescued by social worker Dindin Komarudin, the workshop manager since 2002.

"They actually earn less here than the did in the streets, yet they stay here," said Dindin, 36, adding that a child can make Rp 30,000 to Rp 50,000 a day in the streets, while he can only get Rp 15,000 to Rp 17,500 as a beginner in the workshop.

"Money can be plentiful out there, but in this workshop they get the feeling of security, respect and appreciation for their work," said Dindin.

In the streets, they can only run from one police raid to the next, and they face exploitation and violence from street thugs, Dindin said.

Hendra, who can earn Rp 500,000 a month from the paper recycling, said he was never treated like a laborer.

"Although Kak Dindin is the founder of the gallery, he treats us equally. We produce and he promotes our products. It’s just a kind of distribution of duties. We are partners."

Hendra acknowledged that at first he ran away several times from the workshop because he felt he was being exploited. "But then Kak Dindin opened my eyes. `If you want to fulfill your dream of having a family of your own, you cannot continue living in the streets.’"

"I need to make an effort to change myself," said the second child of seven siblings, who used to be a street singer.

Arya, 26, another former street child, who has been living at the gallery for five years, said, "I’m protected here. I have a roof over my head. And we have already bonded like a family."

Arya came from a broken home, running away after his father left his mother when he was 10 years old.

"From the first moment I came here, I never thought twice of going back to the streets," said Arya, who recently received his high school certificate by attending the government’s Kejar Paket C program, and plans to study civil engineering at the university level.

Arya expressed his hope of finding a donor to fund his future studies. For the past two years he has been saving some of his income to pay for his future education.

"I send Rp 400,000 every month to my mother who is raising my four step-siblings in Sukabumi, and I have been saving all of the rest. But I don’t know whether it will be enough."

Arya earns Rp 800,000 a month making recycled paper. Dindin trusts him as the field coordinator of the recycled paper workshop.

Dindin said the business is not just providing income for the children but also giving them an opportunity to have leadership roles, like a coordinator or a trainer.

Due to his experience and his enthusiasm in sharing knowledge with others, Arya has also become a trainer in several recycling paper training sessions.

"They can improve self-confidence when they teach others. Some of these youngsters have trained people from all sorts of backgrounds — university students, civil servants, even doctors," said Dindin.

When asked whether Arya would still come back to the workshop if he had a chance for another job, Arya said without hesitation, "I will never leave this job even if I find another one."

"This job has saved me from the streets. I will never forget that."

Begging mentality and generosity during Idul Fitri

Begging mentality and generosity during Idul Fitri

Mohammad Yazid, Jakarta

A beggar recently scolded my wife for refusing to give him some money at a busy intersection in Cempaka Putih (famously known as Coca-Cola intersection), Central Jakarta.

"How stingy, so what’s the headscarf for?" he said to my wife. I told my wife not to roll down the car window because I was afraid he was a crook.

Bluffing and smirking have become forms of pressure exerted by beggars operating at nearly every crossroad in Jakarta.

They employ various other methods at other places such as public transportation and residential areas. Some use the conventional style of pretending to be starving or seriously ill, while others apply the criminal way of extorting money from passengers by appearing as alcoholics or newly released convicts.

Women have an effective trick of approaching benevolent people and exploiting the innocent looks of children under the age of five and carrying "hired infants" at Jakarta intersections.

There is no official data on the total number of beggars in Jakarta, but according to Suciardi, head of the commercial sex rehabilitation service at the Jakarta Social Welfare Office, their numbers increase by 40 percent during Ramadhan through Idul Fitri, from the 2,295 normally found in the city.

Chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, Seto Mulyadi, said the number of street children in Greater Jakarta reached 80,000.

Amid the prevailing economic difficulties and different mishaps affecting Indonesia, many people choose begging as their profession, because they often make more than those who work at government offices or private businesses. Earning about Rp 50,000 to Rp 75,000 daily on average, in a month a beggar can make Rp 1.5 million, far more than Jakarta’s minimum wage of Rp 900,000.

Most of the vagrants in Jakarta have come from other areas like Indramayu and Brebes regencies, where they lived quite decent lives. In Pragaan Daya village, Pragaan district, Sumenep, Madura (East Java), begging is even part of the culture of residents and a main source of livelihood for people.

They practice begging not only on Madura Island and parts of East Java, but also in Batam, Kalimantan, Jakarta and even Malaysia.

The annual rise in the number of beggars is partly the result of the high level of concern shown by Jakarta residents. Apart from considerations of legality and responsibility, we are less aware that our care for street people turns them into persistent beggars. Our concern may be seen as showing off our generosity.

The same is true of the small change given to street children, who number about 40,000 in Jakarta with each earning around Rp 20,000 to Rp 30,000 daily.

In this context, Jakarta’s controversial bylaw No.8/2007 on public order, which among other things prohibits people from employing street beggars and from giving money to mostly juvenile beggars and roadside singers, can be understood.

Nonetheless, the problem is whether the provincial administration has made the preparations and formulated a solution to face the consequences of this bylaw’s implementation. It should be questioned how far the regulation has taken heed of the existing rules on protection for the rights of children and low-income people.

To this end, Jakarta may have to learn from the experiences of several other provinces and city administrations such as Makassar and Surakarta, where bans on street beggars and singers are also imposed. Yet these cities’ regulations are accompanied by the proper handling of former street children and teenagers, who are now provided with modest homes and trained in various skills so that they are too busy to roam.

With Ramadhan drawing to a close and Idul Fitri just around the corner, the Jakarta administration can make optimal use of the zakat, sadaqah and infaq (religious alms and charity) required of Muslims who are better off to help the poor and provide for street children.

Various religious institutions are already in place to manage such alms like the national alms agency BAZNAS, Dompet Dhuafa Republika and other smaller groups in mosques.

According to an independent audit, funds received in 2004 by the Jakarta alms and charity board BAZIS totaled Rp 8.3 billion, while other similar alms and donations reached Rp 7.9 billion, far smaller than the estimated income of street children. This indicates the lack of confidence society has in Jakarta’s BAZIS.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a zakat management agency that works professionally with reliable, dedicated and transparent management personnel. Zakat funds should be managed in a more modern fashion in order to win the sympathy of Muslims. Those of higher financial standing should also be aware of the need to set aside some of their income beyond Idul Fitri.

The writer is a member of The Jakarta Post‘s Opinion Desk. He can be reached at yazid@thejakartapost.com.

Beggar, thy neighbor

Beggar, thy neighbor

It’s the season of giving — but you can’t give. A fine of Rp 50 million (US$5,300) threatens anyone in Jakarta caught handing money to beggars, buskers, U-turn men or any other of their ilk.

Yet another controversial policy from departing Governor Sutiyoso, the newly endorsed bylaw on public order faces the challenging month of Ramadhan to unwittingly test, yet again, the credibility of the capital’s leaders.

We trust that many residents would give the thumbs up to Sutiyoso for this contentious policy, which comes on the heels of an uproar over his plans to build a busway route through the elite suburb of Pondok Indah.

Without beggars and people asking for donations for mosques, Jakartans would be unburdened of the choice of whether to give in or dismissively wave them away like a feudal lord. A hefty fine would remind everyone that begging is a crime that takes two to tango, as the law against graft does.

This city has never had pretensions to welcome — let alone protect — the poor and destitute. Governor after governor has issued decrees to restrict newcomers to Jakarta. Pack up and go home if you don’t have a job, the message has always been, this aspiring city doesn’t want more slums and eyesores.

Each year, after the Idul Fitri holidays, a few hundred people get caught for failing to show their Jakarta IDs and are sent home on the next train. But each year tens of thousands manage to settle down, with the help of networks that inform them about the best available opportunities for income.

Begging and busking are among those opportunities. What is new about this public order bylaw is that anyone tempted to give a Rp 500 coin to a dirty faced child with a baby is now a criminal.

Bali’s Denpasar has a similar ban in place, apparently with considerable success, if a cursory look at its cleaner streets is any guide. Mataram, the capital of Lombok, wants to follow in its neighbor’s footsteps, to curb its own growing population of street children.

When reports revealed that Jakarta was to have this new bylaw, the question was if there would be any employment programs to go with it. Does Governor Sutiyoso and his incoming replacement, Fauzi Bowo, have a plan to create new jobs for the 3-in-1 jockeys, bottled water sellers, newspaper boys and toy sellers at the city’s intersections? If not, public order officials will be chasing these people around for a long time.

Indonesia does not have the Western system of unemployment benefits. Few among the city’s unemployed, estimated at some 600,000, can truly afford to be idle. Beggars and buskers — apart from the genuinely lazy and those recruited by criminal syndicates — are doing what they do because it is their last resort.

At every red light the motorist is then left to wonder which of these categories of beggar is the one approaching her window? One feels foolish enriching a criminal syndicate exploiting the poor or contributing to a prolonged habit. But knowing that there is no social safety net, one often ends up fishing out a rupiah note. It’s much better than harboring a nagging guilt, and it makes the beggar or the noisy singer leave pronto.

Enter Ramadhan, when one is reminded to be charitable. Stinginess, after all, does not sit well with a whole month of fasting. When the bylaw takes effect people might still try to be on their best behavior and give food, for instance, instead of cash, to the multitudes who come from the villages to cash in on the annual season of giving.

While facing what many consider to be an unfair sanction on kindness, the public need to know how the administration will realistically change the city’s massive informal sector. A large-scale cash-for-work plan, like those following natural disasters, could be one way to reassure us that the poor are being taken care of.

Another approach would be the promotion of growth in Jakarta’s surrounding towns and villages, which could provide income for landless families which, we’re told, are the source of most of the city’s urban poor.

The fine could mean residents will now shun any extended hand. But until the question of what else is being done for the poor is answered, people should be forgiven for wondering if that single coin might just stop one youngster from plunging into desperation — and getting involved in crimes much more serious than evoking pity.