The prospect of living a better life in Indonesia’s bustling metropolitan cities has long been a drawing card for youth in rural areas.
But reality hits hard for some of these uneducated youth, who tend to struggle to get by because they are unprepared for urban life.
“They see their friends come back from Jakarta with BlackBerry phones, gadgets and new clothes, so they decide to go work in Jakarta,” said Zaini Marzuki, Plan Indonesia’s program unit administration coordinator in Kebumen, Central Java. “They don’t want to be farmers. Many drop out of school. There are few opportunities for them. They go to the city and become bricklayers or parking attendants.”
The few jobs available in Kebumen are mostly in sectors that house brick making, farming, carpentry and gardening, with a smattering of government jobs.
Like many developing countries, Indonesia is experiencing rapid urbanization. The number of people living in cities has increased from 19.4 percent in 1975 to 30.9 percent in 1990 and 39.4 percent in 2000.
Today, Indonesia’s urbanites outnumber their rural counterparts — and the trend shows no signs of slowing.
For young people growing up in Kebumen, the bright lights of sprawling concrete jungles like Jakarta are an attractive alternative to village life.
“If there were more decent job opportunities, young people would prefer to stay here because this is where their home, their family and friends are,” said Sukirman, 31, who is involved in a community radio station run by a youth group in the Karang Sambung district of Kebumen.
Home to 1.24 million people, Kebumen is one of the poorer parts of Indonesia. With little in the way of industry and virtually no tourism, there are few jobs outside of the agricultural sector. Young people often feel like they have limited choices in their futures.
With 140 million of Indonesia’s 240 million people, Java contributes more than half of Indonesia’s national gross domestic product. But while some areas have prospered, others, like Kebumen, have been left behind.
Finding a decent job can be difficult enough on its own, so it’s especially hard in a place like Kebumen where children often drop out of school to find work when they’re 11 or 12. Some end up in Jakarta, missing out on the education that could help them find gainful employment later on. These children are also susceptible to abuse while away from home.
Plan Indonesia works to give young people the best possible start by empowering them to become influential voices where they live and discuss issues that affect them. This helps children stay in school, stay out of harm’s way and take active roles in their communities.
Through community radio, Sukirman and his friends have given young people a platform from which they can voice their opinions and raise awareness on issues like child labor and abuse. This is part of the wider-ranging programs run by Plan Indonesia to change the mind-set and show how an early investment in children can give them the tools they need to succeed later on in life.
“This radio station is helpful for addressing issues,” Sukirman said. “Even though we’re not talking with people face to face, we can still raise awareness.”
A brighter future
Sukirman’s friends at the radio station are a young, vibrant bunch with big ideas and bigger ambitions. Unless greater efforts are made to create diverse jobs in Kebumen, they’re likely to follow the 30,000 people a year who leave the region.
Afita, 15, wants to be a pharmacist. Wahyu, 16, dreams of being a mechanic with a big company. Piyan, 20, has his sights set on a career as a multimedia designer, and Nur, 17, wants to be a TV presenter.
Achieving these dreams would be impossible if these boys and girls dropped out of school to work and bring in extra income for their families, as happens with many children in Kebumen.
This was the issue in a short film the group made.
Wahyu plays a boy whose poor parents pull him out of school and send him to a construction site. The moral of the story is clear: This is no way for children to reach their potential.
“When we screen the film to parents and other groups, people become more aware that child labor is harmful and that children have potential to grow, but that this pattern harms their potential,” Sukirman said.
As young people look to Jakarta and other big cities for their futures, ensuring they get the right start in life will give them the opportunities to make informed choices about where they will go and what they will do.
Matt Crook is web and social media editor for Plan International’s Asia Regional Office.