KEBUMEN, INDONESIA: Indonesia’s bustling metropolitan cities lure uneducated rural youths who often struggle to get by because these school dropouts are unprepared for urban life.
“They see their friends come back from Jakarta with Blackberry phones, gadgets and new clothes, so they decide to go to work in Jakarta,” said Zaini Marzuki, Plan Indonesia’s programme unit admin coordinator in rural Kebumen regency, Central Java – about 440 kilometres from capital Jakarta.
“They don’t want to be farmers. Many drop out of school. There are few opportunities for people to work. They go to the city and end up becoming bricklayers or parking attendants,” he added.
The few jobs there are in Kebumen are in sectors like brickmaking, farming, carpentry and gardening, with a smattering of government jobs.
Like many developing countries, Indonesia is experiencing rapid urbanisation. The number of people living in cities has increased from 19.4% in 1975 to 30.9% in 1990 to 39.4% in 2000. Today, Indonesia’s urbanites outnumber their rural counterparts – and the trend shows no signs of slowing.
For young people growing up in Kebumen regency, the bright lights of sprawling metropolises like Jakarta make for an attractive prospect compared to village life.
“If there were more decent job opportunities, young people would prefer to stay here as this is their home with their family and friends,” said Sukirman, 31, who is involved in a community radio station run by a youth group in Karang Sambung district, Kebumen.
Home to 1.24 million people, Kebumen is one of the poorer parts of Indonesia. With little in the way of industry and virtually no tourism, there aren’t many jobs outside of the agricultural sector. Young people often feel like they have few choices in their futures.
With a massive population of 140 million of Indonesia’s 240 million people, Java contributes more than half of Indonesia’s national gross domestic product. But while some areas have prospered, others, like Kebumen, have been left behind.
Finding a decent job can be difficult enough on its own, so it’s especially hard in a place like Kebumen where children often drop out of school to find what work they can as young as 11 or 12. Some end up in Jakarta, missing out on the education that could help them find gainful employment later on. These children are also susceptible to abuse when they are away from home.
To counter all this, Plan works to give children and young people the best possible start in life by empowering them to become influential voices where they live and to have their say on issues that affect them. By doing so, children are more likely to stay in school, stay out of harm’s way and take active roles in their communities.
Through community radio, Sukirman and his friends have been doing just that, giving young people a platform from which they can voice their opinions, have their say and raise awareness of issues like child labour and abuse. This is part of wider-ranging programmes run by Plan to change mindsets and show how investment in children early on gives them all the tools they need to succeed later on in life.
“This radio station is helpful for addressing issues. Even though we’re not talking with people face to face, we can still raise awareness of the issues,” he added.
Staying in school makes for a brighter future
Sukirman’s friends at the radio station are a young, vibrant bunch with big ideas and even bigger ambitions. It’s clear that unless greater efforts are made to create more diverse jobs in Kebumen, they will most likely follow the 30,000 people a year who leave the regency.
Afita, 15, wants to be a pharmacist; Wahyu, 16, dreams of being a mechanic with a big company; Piyan, 20, has his sights set on a career as a multimedia designer; and Nur, 17, want to be a TV presenter.
None of these dreams would be possible if these boys and girls had had to drop out of school and work to bring in extra income for their families, as happens with many children in Kebumen. This is the issue the group tackled in a short film they made and starred in.
In the film, Wahyu plays a boy whose hard-up parents pull him out of school and send him off to the construction site. The moral of the story is clear: this is no way for a child to reach his or her full potential.
“When we screen the film to parents and other youth groups, people become more aware that child labour is harmful and that children have potential to grow, but when they work this harms their potential,” added Sukirman.
As young people increasingly look to Jakarta and other big cities for their futures, ensuring children get the right start in life will at the very least give them the opportunities to make informed choices about where they will go and what they will do.