Count every child - helping Jakarta's street children to gain an identity
I recently travelled to Jakarta, home to approximately 7,000 street children. Around the world, millions of street-connected children are missing out on a valuable education, making them vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Many children that are born on to the streets do not have their births registered. Without this fundamental certificate, it is difficult for children to get an identity card, and therefore a place at school, or access to healthcare.
It’s estimated that around 40% of Indonesian children are unregistered, and in a country with a child population of around 85 million, this could mean numbers as high as 35 million are unregistered and therefore missing from the social system. In the slums around Jakarta, a survey found two out of three parents don't try to register their children’s births because of the cost and complexity. So, without knowing precise population numbers, it makes it very difficult for governments to budget and plan for people it doesn't know exist.
On my visit, I met 15 year old Andri, who spent his early years living on the streets - misusing drugs and making money by busking on the street and on local buses. Without a birth certificate, he was not able to enrol in school or access healthcare.
Andri told me, “I heard from a friend that children were learning to read and write at a local shelter. When I went to the shelter Plan International were able to help me apply for a birth certificate. I feel very lucky and happy because now I am at school. I can achieve my dream; I can continue learning and study to be a musician or a teacher.”
“My friends and I also tell other children on the street how Plan helped us to get a birth certificate and now they are applying for one too.”
In 2012, with the support of the global insurance company Aviva; Plan International UK, Plan International Indonesia and the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs launched a joint pilot project, the Count Every Child programme, to help families and children in Jakarta access birth registration services and worked to make the process easier and cheaper for them.
The project’s first phase was a huge success: 1,717 street children obtained birth certificates, exceeding our target of 1,500. The project influenced the Indonesian Government to change the law so that birth registration fees were scrapped and that families no longer had to do the registration at the place of birth. Our project has had a great imapact, so much so that the current Indonesian government has set the extremely ambitious goal of registering 100% of all children by 2024.
A large part of the project involves raising awareness about the importance of birth certificates to parents, caregivers and the wider community. Parents and mothers in particular, who may be illiterate, bear the brunt of the responsibility of registering their child's birth, are often put off registering their children due to the perceived and real difficulties, and associated costs.
I met Siti Rofiah, a mother of 5, living in Semper – a slum area only legalised in 2014, despite families having lived there for decades in squatter and illegal dwellings. She tried to enrol her then seven-year-old daughter Aditya into primary school but as she did not have a birth certificate, the school administration didn’t allow her to enrol.
“My daughter was very sad that she could not join her friends at school. Her friends teased her that she was "big” but still wasn’t in school. I did not register her because people said it was expensive and I had to go through the court. I didn’t have the money to pay for it,” says Siti. Sadly, uninformed, illiterate women like Siti Rofiah are also vulnerable to unscrupulous intermediaries who try to charge fees for helping families to complete the birth registration process.
Our local project partner ISCO Foundation (Indonesian Street Children Organization) has strong ties to the community, having worked there for the past 13 years running day shelters for vulnerable children. Part of their work involves going door-to-door, identifying vulnerable children and ensuring they get the care and protection they deserve. It was in this way that Siti was given help to understand the process of applying for birth certificates for her children and what documents she would need to complete. “Now that I understand about Plan’s programme for registering births, I am thankful because I know how to apply for Aditya’s certificate without a big cost. Soon she will be able to go to school,” she says.
We’ve seen that birth registration transforms the lives of street children, helping them to secure a place at school and access health care. We now need to ensure that the process is made easier and to ensure children throughout Indonesia are supported, so we're encouraging other major cities across the country to pilot and adopt the model tested in Jakarta.
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