Friday September 20, 2019
Home Lead Story The Woes Of I...

The Woes Of Indonesia’s Children

According to Flint, Indonesia’s “reasonably high average income conceals a fair amount of underlying inequality.

0
//
Measles, WHO
Two sick children wait for treatment after being admitTed to a hospital in Agats, Asmat District, after the government dispatched military and medical personnel to the remote region of Papua to combat malnutrition and measles, Indonesia. VOA

Despite its middle income status, Indonesia is dealing with what experts say are unexpectedly high rates of childhood stunting. Now, its government – starting with the the president – is declaring war on the issue and committing to boost its response to the challenge following a World Bank publication that says 37 percent of Indonesia’s children were stunted in 2013, a rate on par with some far more impoverished nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Stunting is the medical condition that the World Health Organization defines as “impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.”

While Indonesia’s health ministry and other agencies have been battling to address the problem for years, the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has now elevated the issue to be a national priority, making it a point to include it in last year’s Independence Day address.

“Before he mentioned it in the speech, I doubt it has ever been mentioned by a president in Indonesia,” said Claudia Rokx, a lead health specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the landmark book released last month.

indonesia
“If you’re malnourished during that first thousand days, the likelihood is that you would have suffered from irreversible brain damage,”

First 1,000 days

Health experts emphasize that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are vital for preventing stunting, requiring adequate breastfeeding and nutrition, stimulation and activity, clean water and sanitation, and timely treatment of conditions like diarrhea and malaria.

With more than one in three Indonesian children being stunted, this means around 9 million children in Southeast Asia’s most populous country are suffering from developmental limitations.

Nusa Tenggara Timur, an impoverished province of eastern Indonesia, has the highest rate of stunting in Indonesia at 52 percent. Fifi Sumanti is a midwife on Komodo Island, known for its famous dragons and home to just 2,000 people. It is arid and most food must be brought in from other islands.

“Mothers here aren’t used to giving their children enough vegetables and fruit. They’re happier to give instant food to the children,” Sumanti told VOA. Hygiene awareness and access to clean water are also major problems, she said.

While the poorest parts of Indonesia suffer the highest rates of stunting, even among the richest proportion of Indonesians stunting is as high as 29 percent.

Indonesia
Health experts emphasize that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are vital for preventing stunting. Pixabay

Dr. Brian Sriprahastuti, a senior advisor to the office of the President of Indonesia on the issue of stunting, said the reasons for Indonesia’s stunting problem today go beyond the traditional factors of poverty and limited access to public services. “Now we have another hypothesis that behavior is the main problem of this stunting issue,” Sriprahastuti said.

Sumanti, the midwife, agrees.

“We need to speak with [mothers] more about what stunting is and give greater care from the time mothers are first pregnant until they give birth, until the time the child is three years old,” she said.

“If you’re malnourished during that first thousand days, the likelihood is that you would have suffered from irreversible brain damage,” said Simon Flint, a donor with the Asian Philanthropy Circle, a Singapore-based charity. It is thus, Flint said, “critically important” to prevent stunting to ensure “any intervention or expenditure on education,” adding it “could be so much more effective later on in a person’s life.”His group plans to launch a $10 million 1000 Days Fund by this March to support anti-stunting programs in Indonesia.

A new commitment

In the forward to the World Bank publication, the Indonesian president called current stunting rates “unacceptable” and pledged to prevent two million children from being stunted by 2021. “Eliminating stunting is therefore a main priority for our Government,” he wrote. “The Government is fully committed to do whatever it may take to achieve this goal.

Indonesia
“I doubt it has ever been mentioned by a president in Indonesia,” said Claudia Rokx, a lead health specialist at the World Bank. Pixabay

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, said the government is investing in what he said are “evidence-based interventions” across 100 districts, to be expanded to the country’s 541 districts by 2021. “This initiative marks a decisive step up in the ambitions of the world’s fourth-most populous nation to tackle stunting as part of its commitment to sustained, inclusive economic growth,” he wrote.

According to Flint, Indonesia’s “reasonably high average income conceals a fair amount of underlying inequality. Just for example, according to government figures, in 2016 around 30 million Indonesians were still living on less than a dollar a day. There’s obviously a huge problem of inequality and lack of access among the poorest people.”

Sriprahastuti of the President’s Office said that the government was adopting a human rights-based approach. “For all pregnant women in Indonesia, everywhere, for all children under two, everywhere, we have to support them.”

Also Read: A Majority of Children Die Due to lack of Basic Healthcare Facilities: UN

“They know they have a huge problem, they’ve recognized it now. They are ready to do something about it. They’ve thrown a lot of money into it. They have the highest-level commitment, and they know it can be done in Indonesia as well,” said Rokx.

“Everything is in place for them to do it well, they just have to coordinate better, be persistent and make sure that these kids get the best start in life they can get.” (VOA)

Next Story

By 2030, African Children to Make ‘Half of the World’s Poor’

African children are being left further and further behind and will make up more than half of the world’s poor by 2030

0
Africa, Kids, Children, Poverty, Study
The United Nations reports more than a half million refugees have fled to neighboring countries to escape the ravages of war. Wikimedia Commons

African children are being left further and further behind and will make up more than half of the world’s poor by 2030, according to a new report.

The stark warning comes as more than 150 world leaders prepare to attend the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York beginning Sept. 25 to work on tackling global poverty.

The United Nations has agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). No. 1 on the list is eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. But the world will fall well short of that target, according to the report by Save the Children and the Overseas Development Institute, which delivers a devastating verdict on global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty among children in Africa.

“On our projection, children in Africa will account for around 55% of all extreme poverty in the world by 2030,” said Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children UK.

An estimated 87 million African children will be born into poverty each year in the 2020s, according to the report, which also says about 40% of Africans still live on less than $1.90 a day.

Africa, Kids, Children, Poverty, Study
Children recovering from malnutrition play at the Children hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic. VOA

“On average, women are still having four to five children, and it’s the part of the world where poverty is coming down most slowly, partly because of slow growth but also because of very high levels of inequality,” Watkins said. “A child born into poverty faces greater risks of illiteracy; greater risks of mortality before the age of 5. They’re between two and three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday. They are far less likely to escape poverty themselves, which means that they will become the transmission mechanism for poverty to another generation.”

The report criticizes African governments for failing to develop coherent policies, and also warns that the IMF, the World Bank and other donors are failing in their response.

ALSO READ: World is Decades Behind Schedule to Achieve Ambitious Goals to Fight Poverty, Inequality and Other Ills

Watkins said dramatic changes in approach are urgently needed.

“Transferring more monetary resources to children who are living in poverty has to be part of the solution,” Watkins said. “But we also know that money is not enough. It’s critically important that these children get access to basic nutritional services, the basic health interventions, and the school systems that they need to escape poverty.”

The report warns that if poverty reduction targets are not met, the world will also fall short on other sustainable development goals in education, health and gender equality. (VOA)