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Violence by neglect: the Beggarbabes on the streets of Indonesia

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 28 July 2003

There are many ugly sights in polluted, grimy Surabaya, Indonesia's second biggest city. But by far the most distressing and evil is outside Tunjungan Plaza, the city's glitzy and most popular shopping mall.

TP, as it's known in the East Java capital, is a honeypot for street traders and beggars, lured by the pollen of prosperity that dusts the mall's well-off customers.

Annoyed by the traffic congestion caused by the two-wheeled food carts of the kaki lima, Surabaya city authorities have imposed stringent controls. Police and security now restrict parking and work hard to keep the street open. But they've done nothing about the beggars.


They're nowhere near the problem of kaki lima and in most cases cause only minor inconvenience and embarrassment. Except for the little kids. Really little kids.

The sight of a begging child of maybe three years carrying a baby of perhaps three months, maybe less, is gross in any culture. In a country that has signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child and emphasises the social responsibilities of religion, it's obscene.

Everyone agrees, but no-one will do anything about this running sore. Particularly when the issue is raised by a bule (foreigner).

No-one has been rude enough to say it's none of your business. They don't need to. Instead they've given the complainant the "rubber wall" response.

On each occasion I've prefaced my concerns with this statement: "I'm not being critical of your country. It's a matter of universal human rights and decency. There are many examples of child abuse in my own country.

"As an Australian I cannot claim the high moral ground. We are holding almost 100 asylum-seeking children in detention camps. My country's great shame is the way many kids' needs have been ignored and their bodies exploited, in some cases by churches and churchmen.


"But when these awful cases are exposed action is taken. Forget the fact that we hold different passports. In the common name of humanity can't we take action here?"


In Australia we tell outsiders who offer even the mildest criticism of our culture to "butt out". Fortunately Indonesians are more polite. But the message is the same.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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