‘Rokok, mister?’ asks Budi, age 12, carting a tray of cigarettes on his chest. He patrols the town market-place in the morning, and then goes to school in the afternoon shift. Schools here typically cater for two batches of pupils per day, one in the morning and one after lunch, to maximise the use of limited facilities. The money Budi makes goes to his family, as his father, a displaced farm labourer turned becak (trishaw) driver, does not earn enough to meet all the family needs.
Budi is only one of millions of Indonesian children who work. Many, like Budi, work in what could be termed ‘casual self-employment’; shining shoes, scavenging garbage, or hawking food, cigarettes and magazines. Many more, especially young girls, work in factories or markets, while boys as young as 10 gain employment as farm workers. In country areas, some schoolgirls visit nearby towns during the day to work as prostitutes. It has been estimated that children make up nearly 4% of Indonesia’s workforce of over 75 million. (The national population is about 185 million.) In addition, it is quite normal for country kids of almost any age to contribute to the running of a household/landholding by wood collection, handicrafts, animal care, cultivation, preparation of food for sale or staffing roadside stalls.
The Republic of Indonesia last year ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, but has still to find ways to protect child workers from abuse by their employers. The law of the land prohibits children under 14 from working in private or public industries, and there are regulations to protect those youngsters who are employed: they should work no more than 4 hours a day, not work night shifts, be paid a reasonable wage, and be given educational and health support.