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Turning Indonesia's Rural Young Into Difference-Makers

Posted: 14/08/2012 11:11

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Sukirman (left) and his friends show off a movie they made about child labour.

Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, is a sprawling mass of confusion. Depending on which part of the city you're in, things can look either very urban or very rural. Economic prosperity in Jakarta has seen the lives of many people greatly improved, but for those who get left behind, they miss out in a big way. As the economy has grown, so has inequality, which greatly impacts the lives of children from poor families.

Jakarta sits on the west coast of Java, a massive island home to about 140 million people. Like Jakarta, there's a big difference between the rich and the poor across the island. In rural Kebumen regency - about an hour and a half away by plane and home to 1.24 million people - a lack of jobs outside the farming sector means about 30,000 people leave for the bright lights of the big cities every year.

Many end up disappointed because they drop out of school, don't get an education and therefore don't have the vocational skills that would normally make them employable. Youth unemployment in Indonesia is five times higher than the global average, according to the World Bank, and a lack of quality education plays a major role in that. Across Indonesia - home to world's fourth-largest youth population - about half of the working population are employed in the informal sector.

Young people in Kebumen explained to me why so many have dropped out of school. One reason was that girls from poor families, for example, sometimes get married early.

"It's because it is a tradition. Families feel pride when their daughter gets married first. They can say, 'My daughter got married before yours.' All of us here know someone who married young. Some do it for economic reasons. Others because they got pregnant," said 31-year-old Sukirman, a local motorcycle-taxi driver involved with a community radio station in Karang Sambung district, Kebumen.

The radio station was set up with support from children's rights organisation Plan International, for whom I work, so that young people can learn new skills, talk about their problems and generally have fun. Unsurprisingly, the hot topic among the young callers and texters is love, but there's plenty of time for other important issues, like child labour.

Financial difficulties sometimes force children to leave school and look for work. Many parents see earning a wage as more important than getting an education and this often results in young people doing odd jobs.

Plan also helped the youth group in Karang Sambung film and star in a short movie about child labour that was shown around the community and at other youth groups.

"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.

With so few jobs created in what is one of the poorer parts of Java, it's clear that children need to be more empowered so they can make their voices heard and tell parents that things like child marriage and child labour are a surefire recipe for damaging a child's potential and continuing the cycle of poverty.

If children are actively involved they become agents of change and chip away at tired stereotypes and dated views, effecting a genuine and positive impact on those around them. When children and young people take the lead, great things can happen.

This is one way of sowing seeds for the future and ensuring more children stay in school and are at least given all the opportunities possible for them to reach their potential, whether they choose to migrate to Jakarta or stay in their hometowns.

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