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Measuring impacts of the economic crisis on Indonesian children effectively, timely

© UNICEF/2009/Adri
baby is weighed during a health checkup. Block grants, which also act as social safety nets in this time of economic crisis, are given to villages but further additions are tied to the village's performance in improving pre and post natal check up rates.

By Lely Djuhari

JAKARTA, 9 April 2009 – Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is showing signs of further economic decline this year and the government wants to quickly detect how badly children and poor families are affected.

A workshop called “Monitoring the Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on the poor and vulnerable in Indonesia” organized by Bappenas, the national planning board, and supported by UNDP, UNICEF and other UN agencies was held this week in Jakarta.

This followed an earlier UNICEF-sponsored conference in Singapore when Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati in her key note speech underlined the country’s commitment to ensure children get the first call to resources especially in times of economic challenges. 

Measuring the crisis’ impacts on food security, jobs and poverty, children’s education and health are crucial in order to respond effectively, said Dr. Bambang Widianto, a Deputy Minister in Bappenas.

The workshop aimed to strengthen the government’s crisis monitoring system, particularly “developing and testing means of getting the data as soon as possible or in ‘real’ time,” said Dr. Mahesh Patel, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific regional adviser for social policy.

This include modifying the 100 village survey model used in the 1997 and 1998 financial crisis, extracting routine health data, disease surveillance data from health centres, voluntary counselling and testing centres, schools and checking market prices. UNICEF and ILO continue to advocate for collecting data on child labour.


© UNICEF/2009/Adri
A baby carried in a traditional cloth sling is fed by his mother in Kali Putih village, Wonosobo, Central Java. The economic crisis is forcing some parents to seek cheaper and poorer quality food.

A joint WFP – UNICEF research in 2008 on food security found that the rural poor suffered more than urban poor. Some 41 per cent of households surveyed no longer work on their own farms but toil as wage labourers who are dependent on food purchases from the market.  In 2009, more research will be done to measure how they cope. Early findings showed they are eating cheaper, poorer quality food, relying on relatives and friends for additional money to buy food, buying non-food items on credit or reducing health expenses. School absenteeism will also be monitored.

UNICEF will add technical expertise and continue evidence-based advocacy for child health and nutrition, education and protection, said Niloufar Pourzand, UNICEF Indonesia Chief of Social Policy.

“Indonesia’s ability to stop preventable deaths, reduce malnutrition and protect children from dropping out of schools and becoming child labourers during this crisis depends on their continuing development programs and expanding social safety nets,” she said.

Indonesia, like other Asian countries, has lower state expenditures on health than other regions. Making families pay for social services means that when crisis strike and families’ incomes dry up, children’s health are more likely to suffer.

The government’s initiatives so far are notable and innovative. Block grants to communities called PNPM Mandiri have been disbursed. Additional funds are tied to improvements in the rates of pre-natal check ups and completion of immunization for children. Village heads can use these conditional cash transfers so pregnant mothers get free medical assistance and help with transportation costs to health centres.

Students peruse through books at a primary school in Kebon Dalem village, in Central Java. Block grants, which act as social safety nets in this time of economic crisis, are given to communities who can decide where to channel the money. Some villages use them to pay for additional expenses for schooling such as books. Tuition for primary and junior high school in Indonesia is free.

Despite a surge in the state budget allocation from 2009 onwards to 20 percent for education making education free for primary and junior high school students, there are fears of attendance dropping. Using these grants, schools can give incentives to part-time teachers and students can buy books, uniforms and other needs. The community is asked to help ensure the enrollment rate and attendance remain regular. 

These social safety nets need to continue, be further strengthened and cover wider geographical coverage. 

Plunging export demand and falling commodities prices are pushing the economy to shrink to 3.5 percent this year, the slowest in a decade, as exports slump and commodity prices plunge, the government said.







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