Rikah and Dede
They wear neat uniforms, sport sunglasses, never forget to carry clubs and whistles, always stand erect, and guide traffic in a busy intersection. Perhaps that is the usual image of policemen. Each person probably has a different image. It depends on the context in which they come to know policemen.
Street children know policemen very well even though they aren't on good terms with them. In the eyes of street children, the police appear to be people whose only job is to scare them. With their menacing looks, big boots, and long clubs, they are always ready to chase and beat up street children. The typical policeman is like a wild cat that tirelessly chases after a rat.
You've probably seen from behind your car windows when stopped at a red light, the sight of a policeman, perhaps just to fill up his time, running after a child begging or selling newspapers. And you've seen barefoot children being shooed out of a shopping mall by security guards. We don't see much of the army but we see a lot of the police and security guards.
Being punched or kicked by the police and security guards has become as routine as waking up in the morning for street children. With the chasing and the fighting, the story might appear as if it is like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. But there is another side to that story that is terrible and tragic - a side that isn't some drama on TV or something happening in a foreign country. Sometimes the violence is so extreme that the child is seriously wounded or killed.
Just last month in the next neighborhood down the road, two street children died after being chased out of an area by security guards. They tried to save themselves from the guards by jumping into a canal. They couldn't swim and wound up drowning. I can imagine why they wanted so desperately to avoid getting caught. Street children not only get beaten, sometimes they are taken to what is called 'rehabilitation,' which is a like a prison for children.
I read in a book compiled by a non-governmental organisation in Jakarta about one street kid who survived being shot by the police. He said, 'The thing I wanted to steal was owned by the police. I didn't know that. This policeman immediately came out of his car and pulled out a gun. He shot me in the chest and the bullet went right through me. I was bleeding all over but he still came over and kicked me until I was unconscious.'
Children are still children, whoever and wherever they are, whether they are living on the street or in a big fancy house. All children have a right to go to school, play with their friends, and obtain enough food to live. In Indonesia, the government doesn't respect those rights. Indeed, the security forces themselves, in the name of security, make life more difficult for street children. But we have rights too.
What I see in my neighborhood is that the ones who are supposed to uphold law and order and make the community feel safe are precisely the ones that make us feel unsafe. Let me give you a small example.
There is a low level officer of the navy who lives in my neighborhood. He uses his position in the military to shield himself from the law. One day, a factory nearby was closing down and moving to a different location. It opened up its gates for local people to come in and take things that the company was going to leave behind. We were all quite happy to get some materials for free. The first day that people were allowed inside everything went smoothly. But on the second day this military officer and his colleagues began taking away some of the large valuable equipment that the company was going to move and keep using. Seeing that, some of the local people started grabbing some of that equipment too.
After a few days, the owners discovered that their property was being looted. The military officer accused the local people of having stolen the goods even though he was the one who had been primarily responsible. The company believed him and put him in charge of guarding the factory yard. He used his new position to then steal more things. He arranged for some of his friends and some neighborhood kids to come in, take things away, and then give him part of the profit from selling the things. He eventually got into a fight with some of the kids because he thought they were not giving him enough money. One kid ran away from home and still hasn't returned for fear of that guy. I don't see how this guy is protecting the community.
I'll give you another example that involves the same guy. He sells liquor illegally from a house in the neighborhood. Everyone, including the police, knows where the house is and what goes on there. But it still operates without any problem. I've heard that his salary from the navy is actually pretty high but he still wants to earn more by running an illegal business.
Every so often, to earn some money, I help a friend who drives a small truck. I help load and unload things. The main job of the traffic police in Jakarta seems to be to stop trucks, especially at night, to demand money. The police plant themselves at a corner or along the side of the road and then stop every truck that comes by. Even if all the papers are in order and you haven't committed any traffic violation, you still have to pay something. It is like an unofficial toll. I guess they figure that because the truck is involved in commercial activity, it has money. Drivers have to set aside money to pay off these police. Our truck is quite small but still we get stopped too.
Such is the state of the security system in Indonesia. The ones that are supposed to protect the people use their position to make money off the people. We wind up being scared of the people that call themselves our protectors.
Rikah Suryanto (18 years old) and Dede Puji (19) are former street children who now work with a home for street children, Sanggar Akar, in Jakarta.