Legal Identity - Invisible Children
For everyone of us, the birth of a child is a celebration. Every parent’s hopes and dreams are invested in that tiny life. But, only for some of us, that celebration of life can continue over the years until the child grows up and lead a meaningful life. For some others, the joy stops at day one.
Bayan is an ancient village in the north of Lombok that sits at the foot of Mount Rinjani, blanketed thickly with high forests all around it. Life is simple but hard. Like the rest of the villagers, Ahadi is a farmer. He married Sangen, both are a young couple who never went to school, and a year later expected the birth of their first child. When Sangen was about to give birth, Ahadi took her to Bayan Community Health Center. They had been alerted that Sangen was carrying a high-risk baby, so she was advised to get her BPJS (government health insurance program) ready in anticipation of any treatment costs needed after giving birth. She did not know what BPJS was, neither did her husband.
Sangen gave birth to Kamarsah on June 25, 2016. The baby girl was born underweight and was quickly referred to Tanjung Regional General Hospital for further care. The baby’s intensive treatment would cost Rp 6.8 million. The distance between Ahadi’s village and Tanjung was more than 50km. Ahadi was at the end of his rope. He plants corn once a year during rainy season and in a single harvest, he earns Rp 2.5 million which he uses to buy seeds to meet their everyday needs for the entire year.
Even if Ahadi wanted to apply for BPJS, he could not do so because the family, that included his mother, did not have a Family Card (KK) or National Identity Card (KTP), the necessary documents to obtain one. He never even tried to get a KTP, which is a requirement for a KK. A birth certificate of Ahadi’s would also be required to apply for a KTP, which his mother had possibly never have a knowledge of. Distance and cost were also big issues. “It’s far to get to the civil registration office. I don’t have a motorcycle. An ojek costs Rp 100 thousands for a round trip. And it would not be finished in one visit. I don’t have even money for transport,” said Ahadi. For someone who’s poor and uninformed like Ahadi, he did not think that having a legal identity was important until the birth of his daughter. Now, would he and Sangen even think to try to get a birth certificate for Kamarsah, their first child, knowing all the obstacles to get one and the implications of not having one?
To the west of Bayan in Pemenang, lived a 8 year old Adzam with his mother Maskiah. He would cry seeing friends his age go to school everyday. Maskiah’s husband left after Adzam was born and she did not register his birth. She also did not know that she needed to update their KK as now she was the head of family so she could get government aid. She was a sand porter. Motivated by Adzam’s desire to go to school, she obtained a Birth Notification (issued by the health center where she gave birth) as a temporary solution. Now Adzam attended first grade at SDN 3 East Pemenang. Maskiah was given one month to submit a birth certificate and an updated KK to continue her son’s education.
Adzam and Kamarsah represent around 30 thousands invisible children in North Lombok who have no access to basic services because the government does not even know they have been born. They do not have a legal identity. Their future is halted.
A birth certificate is the first and most important step to define a baby as a person with an inherent set of human rights. Indonesia is a signatory to the International Human Rights Treaties that guarantee every person to the right to a legal identity. But today, only half of Indonesian children (under 18 years) have birth certificates which translates to approximately 40 million unrecorded births. We see them everywhere but their existence are not acknowledged thus unprotected by law. They are not part of our nation’s bulding and development. They cannot go to school and are marginalized for the rest of their lives. A burden, rather than a potential. All is because the absence of a birth certificate. Without it, every baby is deprived of basic services that are her or his rights by birth. Their growth is unmonitored and their education thwarted, creating an unbreakable vicious circle that lasts over generations.
With over 1 in 10 Indonesians still lives below the poverty line according the World Bank in 2015, the government has made several regulations to simplify birth registration procedures. Some of them are by removing all registration fees that had been applied by provincial and district governments, and facilitating outreach to outlying communities so parents can apply for their children’s birth certificates through mobile registration in their villages for free. However, due to geographical challenges and poor transportation infrastructure between government providers and the target population, the level of legal identity ownership, especially in poor households, remains low.
While on national level, the government does what it should, one person who is born and lives in one of the most impoverished and yet beautiful Indonesian provinces, Nusa Tenggara Barat, saw through the mist of his people’s troubles. He is Dr. Najmul Akhyar, the Regent of North Lombok. Where 9 in 10 children under 1 year of age living in poor households in Nusa Tenggara Barat do not have birth certificate, in North Lombok alone, only 49.1% of children aged 0-17 years have them.
Forever awed by the natural beauty of his homeland, the Regent was proud and confident that North Lombok could become one of the best tourism destinations in the country, rivalling Bali. It boasts of volcanic Mount Rinjani, majestic lakes and waterfalls, villages with ancient cultures and the Gilis. Who would inherit these treasures if not the land’s own children? Children who will grow up to protect them and fight for the betterment of lives of people living there. This man knew that education is key. “I firmly believe that the most important asset for the North Lombok District is healthy, faithful and educated children, not only the land and grand buildings,” he once said. He knew that the barriers, namely cost, distance and complexity of the process, of getting a birth certificate as the first requirement to apply for school had to be erased. All in a good time, he found a full support from KOMPAK who had the same vision on making all Indonesian children have the basic services they need. Together, with KOMPAK facilitating, guiding and giving expertise on the issues, the Regent can help secure the foundation of the children’s future.
On July 21, 2016, to celebrate the 8th birthday of North Lombok District, Dr. Najmul Akhyar launched a “100% Birth Certificate for Students of North Lombok District” drive. At the ceremony, he symbolically handed a birth certificate to 8 students while in implementation, he managed to register over 30,000 students in 28 days. His efforts in eliminating the transportation cost and the complex process of going through at least 3 government agencies for a child to get a birth certificate, was not a small feat. His commitment to accelerate birth certificate ownership was in line with Minister of Home Affairs Regulation Number 9/2016.
Now, every child, from the one being born at the foot of Mount Rinjani, splashing in Sendang Gile waterfall, carving wood in the ancient villages or combing the sand in Gili islands will have a chance to be seen and shines. Their parents will be grateful for that fragile and yet most precious gift of life. So will everyone of us.