My passion of travelling has taken me to many places, including Indonesia. It is a country that is close to my heart because of its exotic beauty, friendly faces and diverse cultures.

Fresh from decades of dictator-rule, the modern Indonesia is climbing confidently in the chaotic sea of the free market economy.

Nevertheless, one thing that Indonesians are still struggling to eradicate is poverty.  Strolling around the Jakarta city, it is obvious to see the anak jalanan (street kids), prowling around mindlessly amongst the busy roads and tall buildings. They live day by day begging on the streets.

It was very heartbreaking seeing young kids and sometimes holding a toddler, begging for a few Rupiah coins under the hot sun. Not to mention the danger of the traffic itself. For an outsider like me, it is easy to assume that the government and society are not doing their part to resolve the issue, but is it as simple as that?

My humble observation and discussion with some of my Indonesian friends makes me think otherwise. I believe it is a combination of a lot of factors.

Some Anak Jalanan are the genuine, hard-core poor who ended up begging on the street to survive. These kids have nothing left for them, abandoned by their parents, no shelter, not old enough to get a decent job, forcing themselves to the street. These kids are prone to abuse and exploitation, especially by gangs. These gangs would recruit these kids to beg on the street in return for a little food, shelter and protection.

Some are kids who just want a taste of the outside world. The idea of being independent without any parental control is tempting. These are mostly teenagers who earn a living on a street by either singing/playing guitars, or selling food/goods on the street. I came to know a friend who once ran from home and became an anak jalanan for two years in Bandung. He slept on the street, begged for money by singing, and even bathe in the toilets inside the shopping malls.

On the other hand, there are also kids who are used by their lazy parents to beg on the street. These parents are usually very poor and ignorant. Instead of working for a living to support their family, they force their children to become street kids. Worst is, when these kids do not get enough money by the end of the day, they will be punished. These kids have to sacrifice their education and future just to serve the needs of their selfish parents.

Nevertheless, with high unemployment and higher population growth, it is no surprise that people would have no else place to go except to the street. This is one issue that the government should take a deeper look. With growing income gap between the rich and the poor, city like Jakarta do attract poor Indonesians from other islands to find job opportunities. The over-crowded city may not be able to cater jobs to all.

In an effort to understand the plight of the anak jalanan, we decided to go further to investigate the lives of street kids. When my friend documented his meet with the street kids, he was surprised how tight-knitted the anak jalanan community is. There are kids, adults and a leader to ensure the security of the community. The street is their life, where everybody look after everybody’s back.

Ironically, the street kids community appeared to be ‘happy’ and showed the good side of living as anak jalanan. Without the responsibility of working or finding a job, they even received money and shelter from a local NGO. I was thinking to myself, their lives are not that bad after all. In fact, they refused to get off the street, saying that they are already used to such carefree street life. But in reality, the ‘happy’ faces could be just a façade. My friend saw them addicted to sniffing glue, smoking, exposed to bad influences and social ills.

The issue of anak jalanan will cause a huge burden to the government and the Indonesian society. The sight of street kids in a modern developing city like Jakarta is definitely not a palatable view. Besides, it is bad to the Indonesian’s growing economy.

The problem of street kids is a complex issue that should not be resolved simplistically by the Indonesian government. It ought to be holistic, involving all parties especially civil society groups. More over each cases should be approached differently based on the circumstances. Nevertheless, one thing for sure, these kids should be prioritized to get good education, no excuse for skipping school.