International children’s rights: Indonesia’s orphanages

While Australia and many other countries continue to struggle with the legacy of having institutionalised children during the 20th century, I wanted briefly to draw attention to the present-day situation for children living in residential institutions in Indonesia.

Between 170,000 and over 500,000 children live in residential institutions in Indonesia known as panti asuhan.

Last month, the Indonesian Orphanage Research Hub was launched ( It is an independent, not-for-profit, open-access website for scholarly and other research relating to panti asuhan.

It presents research and other publications about panti asuhan in order to stimulate further evidence-based inquiry and, thereby, support efforts to reduce reliance on panti asuhan in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

we need to know far more about the impacts of institutionalisation on children’s wellbeing and rights

As many will know, the issue of children in residential institutions has become a focus of international public, governmental and academic attention over the past few decades. It is estimated that between two and eight million children live in orphanages or other residential institutions in the developing world and in the former Eastern Bloc (UNICEF 2009, p.19; Save the Children UK 2003, p. 1).

The UN and numerous international non-government organisations have called on governments to implement policies to ‘deinstitutionalise’, or reduce substantially the number of children who live in institutions.

The number of children in Indonesia’s panti asuhan is significant in global terms, possibly accounting for more than six per cent of total worldwide numbers (Babington 2015, p. 18).

There is a growing body of research about Indonesia’s panti asuhan from disciplines including political science, history, social anthropology, psychology and psychiatry. However, much more research is urgently required to better understand panti asuhan. In particular, we need to know far more about the impacts of institutionalisation on children’s wellbeing and rights.

By growing the body of evidence concerning children in Indonesia’s residential institutions we will support the efforts of local, national and international players who seek to reduce the number of children in panti asuhan to an absolute minimum when all other options, particularly reunification or placement with family, have been exhausted.

Dr Brian Babington

30 November 2016



Babington, B 2015, ‘For the benefit of children alone? A discourse analysis of policymaking relating to children’s institutions in Indonesia, 1999-2009’.

Save the Children UK 2003, A last resort. The growing concern about children in residential care. Save the Children’s position on residential care, International Save the Children Alliance, London

Indonesian Orphanages Research Hub 2016, <>.

United Nations 1989United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations, New York.

UNICEF 2009, Progress for children. A report card on child protection, UNICEF, New York.