Jakarta (ANTARA) - “Give me 1,000 old people, I will certainly pry Mount Semeru off its roots. Give me 10 youths, I will certainly make the world tremble.”

This statement was made by the nation’s founding father, Soekarno. The stark comparison of power possessed by the two entities that he highlighted -- a thousand old people moving a mountain and ten youths making the world tremble -- emphasizes that young people possess the grand ability to make global changes.

The entire nation entrusts a heavy responsibility and harbors high expectations from children since their arrival into the world. However, we need to fulfill our responsibilities before these children get to do theirs and one of the ways is by protecting them, inside out.

To what extent has Indonesia protected its children in the current era?

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Mens sana in corpore sano

It would not be too dramatic to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people lead their lives nowadays. The most blatant change was apparent in the economic and social aspects. People’s interactions were severely limited, thereby forcing them to be content with chatting and working digitally.

At first, people seemed fine with it. However, constantly doing it for as long as the pandemic has lasted has taken a toll on the people's mental health. As a result, they are more prone to stress, depression, anxiety, and several other mental health issues. This affects many, including children.

Various data have backed this fact. Commissioner of National Child Protection (KPAI) on Trafficking and Exploitation, Ai Maryati Solihah, revealed that children endured more acts of physical or mental violence from family members during the pandemic, especially from their mothers.

A 2020 survey that involved 25,164 children and 14,169 parents across 34 provinces unearthed some data indicating that violence against children ranged from pinching, followed by punching and pulling ears. Psychological violence is also rampant, with 79 percent of the children admitting that their moms had scolded and yelled at them.

This rate of violence against children is an upshot of an exponential increase in the role of mothers during the pandemic as housewives, teachers, employees, and many more. The build-up of stress, coupled with the lack of channel to voice the burden, led to them venting out on the children.

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Apart from mental health problems, a spike in the cases of domestic violence was coupled with learning loss resulting from the distance learning method that was attributed to a lack of face-to-face contact and the teachers' tendency to communicate in one way. As a result, the children experienced boredom, and the lesson was not taught efficiently.

On account of these reasons, President Jokowi, on behalf of the government, highlighted their keenness to see these children go back to school at the earliest. To this end, all ministries and agencies were dispatched, with each making an extensive effort to pursue this target.

Everyone worked together to administer the COVID-19 vaccination to schoolkids and teachers alike, in the hopes that it would reinforce their immune system, thereby allowing them to physically attend school, albeit under several limitations, such as strict imposition of health protocols.

Other efforts to protect children’s bodies are by ensuring that they grow healthy. However, the stunting rate among children in Indonesia is a matter of grave concern.

This fact was seconded by data from the Global Nutrition Report, which indicated that Indonesia was among 17 countries having nutritional problems, including stunting.

Head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN) Hasto Wardoyo noted that as many as two million children are at risk of stunting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The causes are anemia in mothers, attributed to improper lifestyle that had resulted in nutritional deficiencies.

This issue has become a cause for concern for the government, particularly for the vice president. He coordinated with stakeholders as an attempt to prevent the issue from further worsening. Currently, the national prevalence rate of stunting sits at 24 percent. Vice President KH Ma’ruf Amin targets to reduce this percentage to just 14 percent by 2024.

There are several methods to address the problem, such as by encouraging the public to eat more fish. Apart from its meat being rich in protein, fish consumption would also push for a better economy.

In Batam, university students are also included in this program, as they are dispatched to provide assistance and educate pregnant women, couples about to wed, and couples of childbearing age.

Current homework for everyone

While some implemented aspects have shown some improvements, other aspects still need to be worked on, for instance the law concerning children.

A East Luwu rape case had come to light in 2019 in which a father sexually harassed his three children. The police's handling of this case left the public dissatisfied. Eventually, this led the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry to dispatch a four-member investigative team to gather facts regarding the case.

The struggle to create an environment that is friendly for children — and by extension women — is always done by the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry. Recently, the minister, Bintang Puspayoga, stipulated two villages in Kulon Progo as a leading example for Women-Friendly and Child-Caring Villages.

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Puspayoga drew attention to a 10-point list to create such an environment. The list contained some child-focused pointers, such as budget allocation for child protection, no child labor or marriage, proper data collection on children, and rights-based care for all kids.

The minister expects all villages in Indonesia to follow the example set by these two villages.

Another child-related issue commonly found in Indonesia is the rate of early-age marriage. Sources, such as katadata.co.id, mentioned that the figure of early-age marriages spiked as compared to the time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, out of some 34 thousand requests to get married for children below 19, some 97 percent of them were granted. It is a huge difference from the year prior, where there were only 23,700 requests.

It also highlighted some factors, such as the lack of school activities, avoiding unplanned pregnancy, lack of education about early-age marriages, economic problems, and socio-cultural and religious reasons.

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Early-age marriage leads to a plethora of other problems, such as discontinued education, physical and mental health problems, and it even perpetuates poverty that could be avoided in the first place due to the lack of education that hinders access to better jobs.

The Lombok government has striven to address this matter by encouraging their chiefs (penghulu) to educate the public as a means to suppress the rate of marriages in children.

It is not just the law. Some school kids actually make other children’s life harder by bullying their own peers. Many would attribute this sort of behavior to a lack of self-esteem and the absence of attention from parents. This worrisome habit would eventually draw the government's attention to this issue.

Palangka Raya became an example to fight this deep-rooted problem. Its education office made arrangements to apply anti-bullying programs in all schools in that region as a way to address the rampant problem.

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Moreover, Social Affairs Minister, Tri Rismaharini, made some two hundred children promise to not bully their fellows again, especially those with disability.

"From now on, Indonesian children here are not allowed to bully their friends, agree? Agree?" she remarked during an event to commemorate National Heroes’ Day, hosted at the Kalibata Main National Heroes Cemetery (TMPNU) Convention Building on Monday, November 22.

The journey to empowering and protecting children is a long, never-ending walk. A painful yet rewarding struggle a nation must go through if it seeks a brighter future. Yet one can only hope and contribute to this cause within the scope of his or her abilities.

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Editor: Fardah Assegaf
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