Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Cilincing children face malnutrition

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Meet Yulianto. The two-year-old boy just lost his older brother, Rifki, about 10 months ago. At that time, Rifki was three but he only weighed eight kilograms.

Their mother, Dewi, was suffering from chronic tuberculosis, but despite her illness she insisted on breast-feeding her children as she could not afford to buy milk.

One day, Dewi was almost too weak to move and did not have any food. She crawled to the house of her neighbor, who was also the coordinator of the neighborhood family welfare movement, to get food.

The neighbor gave them something to eat and decided to take the family to the hospital the next morning as it was close to midnight.

Unfortunately, it was too late. Rifki had died from malnutrition and probable respiratory complications.

That very day, Dewi asked the neighbors to do something for her family, assist her in getting help with her tuberculosis and prevent the same thing from happening to Yulianto as had happened to Rifki.

Now Dewi is 34 but she only weighs 39 kilograms. Still too light, but at least she can move freely, and most importantly, her tuberculosis disappeared after six months of treatment, she told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

"Yulianto is now two and weights eight kilograms. He is quite healthy, and improving all the time," she said happily.

Rifki's distressing story is only one of about 60 others involving under-fives who live in neighborhood unit VII in Kalibaru, Cilincing, North Jakarta.

The children were the focus of a three-day free health service program run by the Ministry of National Education's Directorate of Children's Early Education to commemorate National Children's Day, which will fall on July 23. The ministry is jointly holding the event with the Indonesian Child Welfare Foundation (YKAI). The YKAI started the program in the area in 1999 .

Gutama, head of the directorate, told the Post that the event would open state officials eyes to the reality of children's lives in Jakarta.

"There is no point in providing education while the children are dying from malnutrition," he said and promised that he would coordinate with officials from other relevant ministries to take action in the area.

The neighborhood chief, Sulthon Wahyudi, told the Post that people in Cilincing were so poor that sometimes they could not even buy food.

"People sometimes overlook poverty in Jakarta and give aid to poor people in other provinces far away from here. It would be better if they gave help here," he said.

The directorate will also hold a similar event in the Gagak Rawa Complex in Kalideres, West Jakarta, on Monday, and in neighborhood unit III in Kwitang, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday.