At a glance: Indonesia

Indonesian communities bring child labourers back into the classroom

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Nettleton
Sigit Wicaksono, 14, learns to use the computer in his sixth-grade class at Ngepung Primary School, East Java, Indonesia. Not long ago, he was a full-time child labourer who hauled concrete all day.

By Steve Nettleton

NGEPUNG, Indonesia, 21 August 2006 – Sigit Wicaksono, 14, sits in front of a computer, trying to figure out the popular Excel software programme. Mastering Microsoft and modems is a new experience for him. His hands are used to hard labour, not handling a mouse.

Sigit is older and taller than his sixth-grade classmates at Ngepung Primary School in East Java. He lost three years of study when his father forced him to leave school and work to help support the family.

Sigit grows uncomfortable talking about that period in his life.

“I dropped out of school because I had no money, and I joined my father to carry concrete paving blocks,” he says. “It was to help my parents.”

In East Java, many parents expect their children to work and help provide for their families. Sigit joined the ranks of an estimated 1.5 million child labourers in Indonesia between the ages of 10 and 14, most of them out of school.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Nettleton
Young students at recess at Ngepung Primary School in East Java, Indonesia.

Community-based approach

To help these children get back to the classroom, UNICEF has organized an awareness campaign using radio broadcasts, banners and special gatherings to inform communities and business owners about children’s rights. As part of this effort, the UNICEF-supported Creative Learning Communities for Children (CLCC) programme helps to build better and more inclusive learning environments for young people.

“One very important aspect of the CLCC is to work with the local communities, focusing on the importance that all children go to school, regardless of ethnicity, poverty, religion,” says UNICEF Education Officer Erik Bentzen.

“The training is supposed to sensitize parents, communities, teachers and the heads of schools to the individual needs of children. If you bring a child into school who may have been a child labourer, most likely he is over-age compared to his peers. Teachers need to be aware that such a child needs special support in order for the classmates to accept and embrace the child,” adds Mr. Bentzen.

 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Nettleton
After school and during weekends, Sigit finds time to help his father carve wooden flowerpots.

Time to study, work and play

Ultimately, it was the local community that brought Sigit back to school. When the school principal and the village chief urged him to let the boy return to studies, Sigit’s father agreed.

“I asked Sigit whether he wanted to go back to school or not,” his father recalls. “He said he wanted to go back. So, I just let him go. I said, ‘I will work by myself then.’”

Sigit is back in class, but he continues to work for his father after school and on weekends. Now, however, he helps his father craft flowerpots instead of hauling concrete.

“I am still studying, but I still help my father work, because I want to help my father, my family and myself. But I still have time to study and to play,” he says. “I want to improve my achievement.”


 

 

Video

16 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on how Sigit, a former child labourer, got back to the classroom.
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