Fighting child labour in Indonesia: ILO launches new programme

Some 4 million children below the age of 18 in Indonesia work in often dangerous jobs. Can they find another way of life that benefits them and their families? As the ILO launches a new programme in Indonesia to fight child labour, ILO Online examines how one child traded work for education and found a better future for himself and his family in the process.

Article | 05 May 2004

CIBADUYUT, West Java – In the computer room at the ILO Children's Creativity Center, 14-year-old Rosadi Mulya is carefully creating a virtual robot. Yet just a few years ago his hands weren't working on a computer – they were applying noxious glue to shoes in a stuffy workshop.

Rosadi was one of thousands of children working here in Indonesia's major informal footwear center. He began at age 10 – working nine hours a day, six days a week in a bengkel or workshop to bolster his family income.

"I would work until 7 p.m. or even 1 a.m.", Rosadi said, adding he'd dropped out of school in fourth grade. His weekly wages were just Rp 10,000, or the equivalent of about US$ 1.50.

Today, Rosadi's prospects are as bright as the computer screens in front of him. "When I was still working I could hardly draw because my fingers were sore most of the time from gluing the shoes", he said, adding that he now knows that the glues used in the workshop contained dangerous chemical substances that could cause serious health problems, cause headaches and addiction.

Finding a new center

In 2001, Rosadi joined the Creativity Center run by the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). The center is part of the IPEC Footwear Project organized in collaboration with a NGO partner called the Sidikara Foundation, where he has learned how to play music, use a computer and pursue his passion for drawing.

After joining the center, Rosadi began cutting his working hours and spent most of his spare time on advocacy work.

"At first, my parents didn't know that I spent most of time at the center", he said. "When they found out, they were against it and I got scolded. However, when I won a drawing competition in 2001, they could understand and I have eventually stopped working." Together with other volunteers from the Sidikara Foundation, Rosadi actively approached other child labourers and their parents, explaining the hazards of working at the bengkel and the benefits offered at the center. The community traditionally sees the involvement of children in the footwear trade as part of learning a skill for the future, so it wasn't an easy task: "They are used to earning money and their parents are also against the idea", Rosadi said.

His hard work, in collaboration with the Sidikara Foundation and the ILO-IPEC Footwear Project, has yielded inspiring results. The number of child labourers in the informal footwear sector in the Cibaduyut region has been decreasing. According to ILO-IPEC data, the number of child labourers decreased from 1,470 children in 1999 to 256 in 2002. With this progress in mind, the ILO-IPEC is confident that Cibaduyut will be child labour free by July 2004.

Continuing progress

Child labour carries a high social cost. Child labourers are likely to experience low incomes and deprivation as they grow older and their own children are more likely to drop out of school and become child labourers. Yet now, stories like Rosadi's are set to become more and more common.

Indonesia has recently established a National Action Plan for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. And to support the Plan, IPEC, with the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, recently launched a new ILO project designed to assist with the first phase of the Plan.

Supported by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), the ILO project applies the Time Bound Programme approach, building on the two-pronged part strategy of the National Action Plan. First, it improves knowledge, awareness raising and advocacy, while promoting child labour concerns in national and local policies and programmes. Then, it targets children involved in sale, production and trafficking of drugs in Jakarta, trafficked for prostitution in Java, child labour in offshore fishing in North Sumatra, mining in East Kalimantan, and in the footwear sector in West Java.

Through these programmes the project will remove children from the worst forms of child labour and keep others out of such work. While children receive an education, their families and communities will benefit from socio-economic programmes supported by the project. The project will work closely with ILO partners from government, workers and employers' organizations and NGOs. It will also seek to work with and strengthen the network of national and international agencies concerned with child labour.

For Rosadi, joining the center and developing his skills has lead to plans to return to school.

"I have to get an education up to university level", he says. "With a good education, I will be more aware of my rights. I want to be like my mentors at the center and the ILO, who are helping to create a better future for Indonesian children. I wish to do something similar so that there will be no child labourers and all Indonesian children can go to school."