Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Conference calls for urgent help for nation's children

JAKARTA (JP): The third National Conference on Child Welfare ended on Saturday with a call for the government to give the utmost priority to the nation's children as millions continue to suffer in increasing destitution.

"We're demanding all parties pay attention and do their best to help children in this country. If not, we might lose one generation," chairperson of the Indonesian Child Welfare Foundation (YKAI) Lily I. Rilantono told reporters after the closing of the three-day conference.

Lily said that as many as 32 million children in the country under the age of 18 continued to be prone to the effects of the prolonged crisis, protracted conflicts and environmental destruction.

It is estimated that between eight million to 11 million children dropped out of elementary and junior high school last year.

Conservative estimates here put the number of child workers at 1.9 million, while the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) put it at around six million child workers.

Lily pointed out that these figures merely scratch the surface as a multitude of other problems such as malnutrition, street children, children who need special protection like disabled children and refugees also need equivalent attention.

"It needs real action from everyone to solve these problems, including budget allocation," Lily said without elaborating.

Child activist Irwanto pointed out, however, that large sums of money had already been poured into various child welfare programs.

"Many agencies design a program and collect funds to help children. But the reality is the overhead costs are higher than the funds given to the children," Irwanto claimed.

He suggested that a method be designed in which the funds could go directly to those in need with a third party interceding such as the National Family Planning Board.

"Let people organize the funds, don't make too many agencies or associations," he said.

Earlier during the conference, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi) Emmy Hafild called on non-governmental organizations working in this field to raise the specter of their advocacy to the national level.

While working at the grassroots level addressing issues like education and street children were commendable, Emmy said there was also a need to make children's issues national causes which could spark public discourse and debate.

NGOs must be able to lobby at the national political level without becoming a part of it, Emmy said on Friday. (09)