JAKARTA: It was the sudden loud cry of 10-year-old Indonesian Aisyah that caught her neighbours' attention in South Tangerang, Banten province, one day in January.
They quickly rushed to her house, but since they knew Aisyah’s mother had contracted COVID-19 and was isolating at home, nobody dared to go in to see what had happened.
They decided to contact local authorities, which swiftly arrived at the scene and later informed them that Aisyah’s mother had died.
The case became viral following media reports and many Indonesians donated money to Aisyah, who is now under the care of the city's social workers.
“She is now living temporarily with one of them for the sake of her trauma healing. If she were to be placed in a social welfare facility with other people, she could be anxious,” said Mr Wahyunoto Lukman, head of South Tangerang’s social affairs agency.
Aisyah's story is not unique, said Mdm Kanya Eka Santi, the director of children’s social rehabilitation at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
“There are many cases like Aisyah, there’s not just only one,” she told CNA.
With more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and about 35,000 deaths, COVID-19 has affected Indonesia’s young generation in many ways.
The extent of the problem is significant, ranging from economic hardship and parental death to lack of access to education and basic rights, such as social interaction and many more, said Mdm Santi.
However, she and several other officials CNA spoke to said there is no data on the number of affected children in the vast country of 270 million people.
To give a rough idea of the scale of the problem, Mdm Santi said that Gresik regency in East Java province alone has more than 150 cases of children impacted by COVID-19.
Indonesia has more than 400 regencies and about 100 cities.
It has been a year since President Joko Widodo announced the first two COVID-19 cases in early March last year, and the disease has continued to rage in the country, resulting in an overwhelmed healthcare system and battered economy.
These, along with decreased learning time, may spell uncertainty for the future of the young generation, even though the risk of severe COVID-19 is relatively small in youngsters.
FORMAL EDUCATION HINDERED BY SCHOOL CLOSURE
“Mummy, when can I ride my bike again? When can I play outdoors again with my friends?”
Such was the constant questioning from Ari Santy Purba’s eight-year-old daughter, the younger of two siblings.
Mdm Purba could only answer: “We have to take care of ourselves carefully. Look what happened to daddy, he died of COVID-19.”
Mdm Purba lives in Langsa, Aceh province, with her younger child since her husband died of COVID-19 last September. Her elder son, 13, attends an Islamic boarding school.
When the pandemic broke out, schools in Indonesia all moved online, and Mdm Purba’s child was isolated from her friends. Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), estimated that more than 60 million children have their education interrupted as more than 646,000 schools were closed since mid-March last year.
“I didn’t let her go out. I was very traumatised. She was just at home reading stuff,” said Mdm Purba.
About half a month ago, schools in Langsa reopened as the city was downgraded from a red zone to an orange zone after COVID-19 cases fell.
Now Mdm Purba’s daughter, who is in second grade, goes to school twice a week.
Although she felt it is still not sufficient, the 38-year-old said the reduced learning time is better than nothing.
At the moment, there are about 40 COVID-19 red zones in Indonesia, where schools must remain closed. A survey released by the education agency of Cimahi city in West Java province in mid-February revealed that almost 15 per cent of second graders in Cimahi cannot read and write, though the cause was not stated.
In East Java province, head of Surabaya’s city education agency Supomo, who goes by one name, concurred that the pandemic has disrupted the lives of children.
“The impact is that they can't go to school, their activities are limited.
"Some have handphones, some don't. We send assignments regularly to their homes, and continue to add various kinds of activities online such as competitions and so on, and hopefully they will continue to concentrate on education," he told CNA.
READ: 'I cannot move the lessons online' - Educators in remote Indonesia visit students one by one during school closure
Mr Supomo said online learning is not ideal, but it is the best solution to the current condition.
In early February, Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) said it has received 6,519 reports related to the violations of children's rights in 2020. According to Indonesian law, a child is a person who is below 18 years old.
About 1,500 of the reports involved rights to education, such as no access to online learning and limited ability to follow learning activities.
The impact and consequences are many and varied, said Save the Children's deputy for programme impact and policy Tata Sudrajat.
Other than affecting the children's future abilities in accessing higher education as well as landing employment opportunities, the current learning loss may also result in less motivation to return to schools, he said.
This might cause higher dropout rates and result in child labour and child marriage due to economic pressure. "All of these could result in having a lost generation, because their contribution to society when they are adults will not be as significant as other children who have uninterrupted education before the pandemic," Mr Sudrajat added.
PARENTAL LOSS DUE TO COVID-19
Meanwhile, COVID-19 clusters within families and alternative parenting make up the bulk of the reports received by the KPAI.
Among the 1,622 cases were children whose either or both parents passed away due to COVID-19, and have to be placed under the care of relatives.
Any form of adoption or foster must be done through a legal process, which was the case when Bandung-based Mr Ismet wanted to be the guardian of his twin nieces last year.
Mr Ismet, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said when his youngest sister died of COVID-19 last April, she told him that he should take care of her 17-year-old twins who lived in Palu.
Although the twins’ father is still alive, he is unemployed and believed to have violent tendencies.
The father rejected the will but social workers concluded that he is not eligible to take care of the girls, Mr Ismet said.
After six months, all legal work was done and the twins moved to Bandung to be with Mr Ismet.
Since they suffer from some form of psychological trauma, the social affairs agency provided them with a psychologist.
For their daily needs, Mr Ismet and his other sibling chip in.
“I don’t mind taking care of them because my children are both adults and have their own job,” he said.
Mdm Fia in Sampang, East Java, who only wanted to be known by her first name, said she is now the caretaker of her youngest sister, who is 17, when their father died of COVID-19 last November.
Their mother had earlier passed away in 2018.
As the oldest of five siblings, Mdm Fia, who is a mother of three children aged between three and 12, felt it was her responsibility to take care of her sister.
“She is still sad when she thinks of (our father’s) death.”
But Mdm Fia was unsure whether she can continue to provide for her sister financially. Her sister is currently in high school and they have another sibling who is still in university.
"I do wonder whether I can support both their needs, but I must until they finish university,” she said.
FINANCIAL WOES LEAD TO MORE PROBLEMS
With the pandemic affecting daily lives, many adults in Indonesia are facing economic problems, which has a direct impact on their children.
Mdm Siti Aisyah in Surabaya lost her husband last October and now wonders what the future holds for her and her children.
She is a housewife and has four children, the youngest being 13.
Emotional pain aside, it has been hard for the 48-year-old housewife as her husband used to provide for their daily needs. They have been depending on the kindness of their relatives to make ends meet.
“And since life goes on, I cannot depend continuously on our family,” said Mdm Aisyah.
She plans to be a small trader to make ends meet once her grieving period is over.
The adults' struggle could lead to other problems such as violence.
According to KPAI’s report, 42.4 per cent of mothers and 32.3 per cent of fathers said they have committed physical violence towards their children last year.
Meanwhile, 73 per cent of mothers and 69.6 per cent of fathers admitted to having committed psychological violence towards their children.
Mdm Rut Ida Meliani, 56, in Jakarta told CNA that she thought of ending her own life and her disabled son's.
The housewife lost her husband last March and was struggling to run his small bedding business at a traditional market while taking care of her 19-year-old son, who is visually impaired, autistic and has limited communication skills.
She sought help from her son’s school, hoping that she could place him in their care while she is at work.
The school rejected the idea and reminded Mdm Meliani that her son will soon graduate from the school when he is 20 years old.
“I was very stressed out. I thought: ‘Is my son such a burden to you?’ I just wanted to meet my financial needs first because we are in debt.
“They told me to hire a maid but I can't afford one,” she said.
The only family members she has are her widowed sisters and she does not want to be a burden to them.
“I thought of taking my life and my son’s. I couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle it,” she told CNA while crying.
NO GOVERNMENT SCHEMES FOR CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS
Since the pandemic hit, the Indonesian government has focused on controlling the spread of COVID-19 infections with lockdowns and travel restrictions. Its vaccination programme recently kicked off with Mr Widodo receiving the jabs, and 181.5 million people are expected to be inoculated by early next year.
To lessen people's burden financially, the government has provided social aid in the form of staple food and financial aid, as well as tax incentives for small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
Mdm Santi from the social affair ministry said while it does not have specific schemes tailored for children impacted by COVID-19, social aids and psychosocial support are provided.
“Our budget is limited, but at least we can support … be it by providing food or clothes.
“And if the children are still grieving, we can also support them with therapy."
A senior official at the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection told CNA that it has programmes to empower widows.
“We have training so they can be empowered and continue with their business,” said Mr Nahar.
If the parent is financially stable, the children will likely be in good hands, he added.