When Amalia Ulfa heard the news of her parents dying from COVID-19, her world shattered.
- Children who have lost one or both parents are at a greater risk of being pushed into child marriage and exploitation
- An independent initiative aims to help those children with their daily needs and education
- More than 124,000 people have died from coronavirus in Indonesia
Ms Ulfa’s father died at the family home on July 10, seven days after he tested positive.
Two days later, her mother, who was treated in hospital after also becoming infected with the virus, died.
“I was very close to my mother, and we went together everywhere we needed to go,” she said.
Ms Ulfa, who is 24 years old, lives with her four-year-old brother Raffa Abdul Maulana in Garut, 75 kilometres from the capital of West Java Province, Bandung.
For the past month, she’s not been able to leave home to work as she has to take care of him.
Three of her older siblings live two hours away.
Ms Ulfa said she has been surviving by continuing her late mother’s business of selling liquid gas for cooking, since leaving her job at a hotel after both of her parents died.
“It is not enough for us to live,” she said.
“Each month my mother only got around 350,000 rupiah ($35) from the business. My salary from working in hotel is around 1.5 million rupiah ($150),” she said.
Indonesia’s Social Ministry estimates 11,045 children have lost one or both of their parents due to the deadly virus.
The estimate comes from data gathered at the end of July, by looking at the number of deaths among those aged between 19 and 45.
“Assuming that [each parent from] one family leaves one child behind, that’s the number we end up with,” the ministry’s children rehabilitation director Kanya Eka Santi said.
Ms Santi said there were 792 children who lost one or both parents in East Java, while about 500 children were in the same situation in both Yogyakarta and West Java.
But independent investigators in the country, such as Kawal COVID-19 and Warga Bantu Warga, have predicted more than 50,000 children will have lost at least one parent due to COVID-19.
Ten-year-old Erinda Pratiwi lost her mother to COVID-19 in Bantul, Yogyakarta province, two months ago.
After living with her siblings, who both have a family of their own, Erinda was sent to a boarding school 10 kilometres from their house, as she struggled to study online.
She could only communicate with her family twice a week on video call.
Her brother, Ari Eko, who is 21 years older, said she was surrounded by many friends at school.
“Sometimes I felt very sad looking at her as my sister while I also have children the same age as her,” Mr Eko told ABC.
“We are not good enough at teaching her about religious values. We were also worried about her wellbeing without parents.
“So far she seems to be happy in school.”
About 146 children in Bantul have lost one or both parents to COVID-19, according to local district chief Fauzan Mu’arifin.
Mr Mu’arifin said help must be offered as soon as possible as there were concerns about the children’s future.
“We are worried these children could potentially drop out from school, become homeless or even get involved in criminal activities,” he said.
Risks of forced child marriage heightens
As Indonesia’s COVID death toll reached more than 124,000 this week, social workers have seen increasing numbers of orphaned children in need of care.
In the past fortnight, Save the Children has counselled 30 children who have lost at least one parent.
It has also helped with financial support for extended family members who are taking care of them.
“It’s important these children stay with a family member whom they know, not in the orphanage, because that should be a last resort,” Dino Satria, the organisation’s head of the humanitarian and resilience program, told the ABC.
“These children should feel safe, comfortable and secure living with the family members that they know.”
Mr Satria said children who had lost both parents, especially during the pandemic, were exposed to a number of psychological and social risks.
“They could get depressed and stressed from the intense grief and might be treated unfairly,” he said.
“[They] are exposed to a high risk of being forced into child marriage and exploitation … especially when they fall into the wrong hands.”
Ms Santi from the Social Ministry said child marriage was very common in some parts of the country as it was a way for the family to “get away from responsibility”.
“Our social workers have been trying to prevent this from happening. We have also been trying to tell the families how this action will put children in a bad situation,” she told ABC.
“But if these things still happen despite the effort, it’s out of our control because the ministry has limited resources while at the same time, it’s also very hard to navigate when child marriage becomes a shortcut for them.”
[NEW PHOTO: CHILDREN]
More than 600 calls for help in two weeks
An independent initiative called Kawal Masa Depan, which translates to guard children’s future, has also been inundated with calls for help.
Since its launch three weeks ago, the organisation has gathered more than 1 billion rupiah ($100,000) through their online donation platform.
It wants to support 10,000 children who have lost one or both parents in the long run, and has so far received more than 600 applications for help.
Kalis Mardiasih, one of the volunteers who has been helping manage the program, said the initiative focused on the education and daily needs of children who have lost one or both of their parents.
“The money given on the first batch will be a response to the crisis. We will give 1 million rupiah ($100) either for compensation or scholarships,” she said.
“We hope these children will be able to eat and continue their lives.
“We will do a follow up on them … and start thinking about the quality of their education.”
The organisation has also been trying to get in touch with children and families outside of social media.
“We understand that not everyone is connected to social media, especially in times of crisis,” Ms Mardiasih said.
“So we have been trying to connect with children who live in kampung [rural areas] where there are many family clusters [and] for example, young orphans living with their grandparents.”
Ms Mardiasih said the responsibility to protect children should fall to the state, but “its administrative procedures may cause a longer period” of wait.
“We are still demanding the country to do its best … but we understand this is a crisis. Families are struggling to take care of the ill and are clueless,” she told the ABC.
“We realise that in times of crisis, any kind initiatives from the people will always exist.”
An immediate “comprehensive measure” to spread awareness about preventing harm to orphans was also expected from the government, Mr Satria said.
“It’s important to give full support to extended families who will be the main carer for orphans and strengthen children’s abilities to adapt in new circumstances.”
Ms Ulfa has been trying her best to live independently.
But she said she will need help from her siblings or the government soon.
Read the story in Bahasa Indonesia