Children’s rights and institutions in Indonesia

For much of the past decade Families Australia has supported adult survivors of children’s institutions in Australia during the 20th century—the ‘Forgotten Australians’—to have their concerns acknowledged and addressed in national policy and programs. Mercifully, large-scale children’s institutions have long been closed in Australia. Yet, even today, between two and eight million children live in orphanages in developing countries. Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of researching the topic of children’s rights and institutions in Indonesia. By some estimates, over 500,000 children today live in more than 5,000 institutions in Indonesia. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that the placement of children in alternative care settings such as orphanages must be a last resort and only used when all other options, such as community-based care, have been considered. In my doctoral study, I explored why the Indonesian Government decided during the 2000s to adopt a policy to deinstitutionalise, or reduce reliance on, a particularly prevalent form of children’s institution called panti asuhan. While public portrayals have suggested that the Indonesian Government shifted policy to better align with the UNCRC, I found that the new policy represented a far more complex blend of political, economic, cultural, and religious forces, with some opposing children’s institutions and some favouring their continuation. The compromises that are embedded in the new policy seem likely to mean that, unless there is another major shift in official attitude, the widespread use of children’s institutions in Indonesia may well continue for some time to come. Click here if you would like to read the study.

Dr Brian Babington, CEO