FEATURE: Japan fund hopes to give life to Indonesian girls

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia, Nov. 7 Kyodo

Ika Andriani Sari ran away from home to escape emotionally exhausting quarrels between her parents. She thought she would find a better life on the streets in Yogyakarta Province.

Ika, 15, told Kyodo News she sold newspapers in Yogyakarta tourist spot Malioboro to partly support herself. To augment income from cigarette-peddling, she sang and entertained travelers on board inter-city buses plying the Solo in Central Java and Surabaya in East Java routes.

Soon, she found out the bitter truth. Street life was no better than living with her parents despite the noisy fights.

Ika also learned that sex is a component of a street life survival kit. She said she did not know anything about prostitution before venturing into the street.

The harsh life on the street forced her to dole out sexual favors to male street children for protection. She had no choice but to do so because she would be raped if she refused.

”At night, I slept at train stations together with other boys and girls,” she recalled shyly.

She was pregnant by the time volunteers of Ghifari Putri, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) providing temporary shelter for girls on the street, found Ika last year. The volunteers took care of her.

But there are many Ikas in Yogyakarta.

Ani Sarah Kurbani, 18, left home when she was 13 because her stepfather ”did things to my body.”

Like Ika, Ani also sang on buses and slept in front of shops. And she was unable to do anything ”when boys disturbed and touched” her.

Sigit Sugianto, an officer of Ghifari Putri, said Ika and her baby girl and Ani still live in the shelter, along with 38 other girls rescued from the streets.

Sigit said the girls not only get free food, but are also given vocational training such as baking cakes or sewing to help them prepare for lives outside the shelter.

The volunteers also try to motivate them to return home and attempt to lead normal lives.

Sigit said volunteers promise to help those in the shelter and the girls can still count on them for assistance even after they no longer live in the shelter.

”It is not an easy task. They had free sex on the streets, changing partners several times,” he said.

Marriages among street children do not last more than several months, he said. ”After a couple of months, they get bored and look for new sexual partners.”

”The first thing we can do is to make them independent economically before we can teach them about morality,” Sigit said.

Ghifari Putri is one of the temporary shelters in Yogyakarta that will receive part of $1 million in assistance from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. The fund was set up by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in May for a two-year pilot project to help street girls in Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta was chosen as the number of street girls in the province is higher than in other areas. There is also a strong commitment from the local government and there are many local NGOs that have the capacity to deal with girls under the program.

If successful, the pilot project will be replicated in other urban areas in Indonesia.

Under the project, the ADB, along with NGOs and the Indonesian government, will set up counseling programs for street girls who are at risk of, or who have experienced, sexual abuse.

”Frankly speaking, teaching girls is much more difficult than educating boys,” Sigit said.

Endang Ekowarni, a psychologist at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, said the problem of teaching street girls is also being experienced by volunteers in several shelters in Yogyakarta.

”Naturally, girls are different from boys,” Endang told Kyodo News. ”Usually, the girls were protected and taken care of by their families, especially their parents.”

”Once they are out to the streets to survive on their own, they feel they have to be stronger than boys. They think the streets are only for boys, not for them,” she said.

Kirik Erwanto, a volunteer at Humana, another NGO dealing with street children, shared a similar view, saying that even securing a sanitary napkin can frequently lead to big fights among girls in the shelters.

”They are so possessive. Competition in the streets is very tough,” he said.

The Japan fund is not only targeting victims of sexual abuse and child prostitution, but also girls who are potential prostitutes, such as 13-month-old Septi.

Septi lives with her mother Sutini, 27, in Sidoarum Social House for Women in the town of Sleman, near Yogyakarta. Sutini left their house in the Samas complex on the Parangtritis Beach in southern Yogyakarta, a complex known for its prostitution dens.

”I don’t want my baby to grow up there and become a prostitute like my mother,” Sutini said. ”I had no choice except to come here because my husband left me. I don’t have money or job to feed my daughter.”

An official at the house said Sutini is now a good cookie baker and that she plans to open a cake shop when she leaves the shelter.

A recent survey showed there are about 170,000 street children in Indonesia, with girls making up 20% of the total.

In Yogyakarta itself, there were only 350 before the Asian financial crisis in mid-1997 and only a few were girls. But by the end of 1997, the number had risen to 920 and 10% were girls. The total reached 1,600 in July, of whom 400 were girls.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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