The day before the comemmoration of the Independence Day of our beloved country Indonesia (17 August 1945 - 17 August 2016), I had special guests stopping by at my house. They were these kids who are my neighbors. We then had great times with singing, story-tellings, watching movies and sharing candy.
Each of them began to show their creativity because the rule was "one candy for one creativity". In the midst of the joy, a boy raised and shouted; "tomorrow will be our Independence Day". I just smiled at him and responded with a few questions in order to capture their understanding about the Independence and the country itself. And what happened next was we celebrated the day before the entire nation does!
We joyfully sang "17 Agustus Tahun 45" (17 August 1945), a popular song especially during the independence month (check this out: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DFvuRAx47x0). We sang it three times repeatedly and doubling the joy!
Through that song I could see and feel how they proudly growing as Indonesian children as well as their love for the nation. Singing a song might be an ordinary thing, but when it is presented with great passion, joyfulness, and full of expression the song is actually more than the song itself, that is an expression of the self, expression of the identity, expression of being, and expression of nationalism in this case. It is also "a way of becoming".
After singing and getting candy of course they then went home happily, but left me with a question with sadness!
"If these children love the country so much just like the other children in many parts of Indonesia such as in Papua and Maluku, does the country love them back?"
I started to think about the question but it's hard to answer since the choices are only "yes" or "no". Maybe we should have another choice, "yes but no" or otherwise. Yet I still postpone to answer it, but it keeps running and running into my mind.
A few minutes later (while still struggling with the same question ) I read a news from Child Protection Commission's official website (www.kpai.go.id) reporting that children exploitation is still high in Indonesia. Just recently twelve kids in West Kalimantan were smuggled into Jakarta to be worked as child labor. This is just one of the million cases in the country!
In 2014, the UNICEF released a short but informative and accurate report about Children Statistics in Indonesia. The document called "Cerita Dari Indonesia" (Story from Indonesia) has disclosed so many facts about the suffering of Indonesian children. It shows that 44,3 million children living under poverty and 4,1 have been neglected in terms of family, education, social and health care.
Poverty in Indonesia becomes one of the crucial issues since the independence itself, beside religious intolerance and conflicts, terrorism, and corruption. Even in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia and the symbol of our power and modernity, we can still see how people wrestling with poverty, surviving to live day by day, living on the streets, etc. As a part of the reality children become the most vulnerable group.
The document also concluded that 25% of the girls population get married before age 18. Sadly to say, that this ranked Indonesia in the highest position in South East Asia, East Asia, and Pacific Region. Some girls might decide to marry because of her own desire, but most of them are in difficult situation in terms of economics and education that enforce them to do so. Early marriage becomes their choice to survive!
We are also challenged with another fact that a child in any place in the country dies every three minutes or there are approximately 190.000 death cases every year. If they were the citizens of the countries such as Monaco that have small population, we might be no longer survive as a country! This is understandable since we know that 35% of children have no access for clean water, more than 33% unable to access for imunitation, and 31% of the total infant suffer with malaria and other infectious diseas. One of the twenty new detected PLWHIVs is under 15 years old.
In term of education, the statistics says that 2.3 million children between ages 7-15 have no opportunity for education. Eventhough the rest have access for school, but only those who live in cities that really enjoy the good education while many other in the remote areas have to struggle with it.
I come from a small village called Waai located in Ambon, eastern part of Indonesia. As the one who spent about 10 years being educated there I now could see how different it was (and is) with what can be accessed in Jakarta or Jogjakarta. A bit farther from my village, called Ceram, most of the students have to walk for miles just for the sake of education and some others have to cross the river and forest, again just for school. That means that the quality of education for every child is also different depending on where they live!
Still related to education, the UNICEF data also reminds us that there are about 40% children across the nation facing violence at school. Violence against the children takes place at school involving teacher with different forms of violence. In a broader context such as in society, the issue of violence becomes more complicated and tragic as well. In these past two years the country was put on the emergency list of violence against the children due to the massive children exploitation, rape, and murder.
The above mentioned facts are what could be captured by statistics, but the reality is probably more than what numbers can explain!
When celebrating the 71th years of the Independence we are challenged to answer the question, “does the country love the children?” In a more practical way, the question will be “is there any safe place for children in this 71th year-old country to live?” After giving sometimes to think, I would say, “the country doesn't love them yet or at least not fully yet”. Unfortunately, their love for the country gets no love in return!
And now, what it means to be independent as a nation without justice, peace, and security for the Children? Nothing! The purpose of the independence was essentially to liberate people from suffering, discrimination, violence, and increasing the quality of life for every human being regardless of their age, sexualitiy, ethnic, and religion. If the suffering, discrimination, and violence against any group of the society still exist, we have to confess that “the country is not independent at all”.
"The modern colonialism created by the government and fellow citizens is even worst that what the Dutch brought to this land".
The issues of "Children At Risk” urges the government, society, religious communities (church and other institutions), social organization and individuals, including us as human family, to take serious actions to prevent and to overcome all kinds of injustice, discrimination, and violence against children. Without that we cannot be named as independent nation and without such a struggle as well the church cannot also be called as church!
Happy Independence Day, Indonesia!
Let's pray for the true independence in this country!