JAKARTA, Feb 10 – Hudaiva gazed into the distance as she spoke about her son Arif, who disappeared in Jakarta in May, 2008. A day later police found the mutilated remains of a boy in a cardboard box at a bus station.
But it was only a few weeks ago that Hudaiva found out those remains were of her seven-year-old son.
"I was shocked and fainted many times," she said softly, as she cradled a younger son in her arms.
Police said Arif was killed and dismembered by 48-year-old Baeduni, also known as Babeh or "father", who has confessed to at least 14 other rapes and murders since 1995, all of boys who lived and worked on the streets of Jakarta.
Another man, known only as "Abang Kaca Mata" or "brother with glasses", is accused of raping more than 15 street children.
The killings have shocked Indonesians and prompted many to wonder why, after a decade of democratic reform and economic prosperity, the government still cannot protect the country\\\’s most vulnerable citizens.
Twelve-year-old busker Ela Nurilasari remembered Arif as a kind boy who would share some of his own earnings with her if she was thirsty and didn\\\’t have enough money for a drink.
"Some men only approach boys. I remember Arif told me Babeh always asked to shower with him," Ela told AFP.
Every morning, Ela walks along a narrow divider near a busy intersection in east Jakarta, her pink bag slung over her shoulder and a ukulele covered with brightly coloured stickers in her hands.
"I can play two songs," she said with a grin, her hair sticking to her forehead after hours of walking under the sun. That\\\’s enough to earn about 20,000 rupiah (a little more than two US dollars) in a nine-hour day.
After working on the streets for five years, Ela is no stranger to physical and sexual harassment.
"Once, there were two men on a motorbike. One said: \\\’Come follow me, just hop on my motorbike. Just have some fun and I\\\’ll give you money\\\’," she said.
"One man offered me 50,000 rupiah. I was afraid he\\\’d rape me, so I ran away. These men always try to pick on us, so one day 10 of us got together and threw stones at them. They jumped on their motorbikes and took off."
Street children like Arif and Ela have long been seen as outcasts by Indonesia\\\’s status-conscious society, and most seem to accept their hardships with grim resignation.
"I dream of being a doctor one day. But how can I when I spend all day working?" said Ela, a pretty girl with long, straight hair.
"My parents are road sweepers and they don\\\’t earn enough money. If I don\\\’t work, we can\\\’t eat. This is my lot in life."
— Children at the edge of society —
Indonesia is home to 4.4 million children in need — some are orphans, others victims of domestic violence — of whom more than 300,000 are registered as street children, according to the latest government statistics.
But officials and human rights groups say many more are not counted, and there is even less data on sexual abuse of such children.
Poor regulations and the lack of oversight mean almost anyone can set up a private shelter for homeless children. Babeh reportedly operated such a "sanctuary" from his home, where he claims he killed many of his victims.
"When communities push children to the edge of society they look for someone to care for them, so someone like Babeh appears to accept and love them," National Commission for Child Protection official Arist Merdeka Sirait said.
"That\\\’s why there are a lot of Babehs."
Pressured to respond to the daily headlines on Babeh\\\’s alleged killing spree, Jakarta\\\’s authorities scrambled to look like they were doing something, experts said.
One proposal — forcing street children to undergo rectal examinations to determine whether they had been sexually assaulted — sparked a furious response from child rights groups and was quickly withdrawn.
A promise to clear the city of street children by 2011 met a chorus of disbelief.
"They can\\\’t solve the problem in one year. The government needs to go directly to the streets to ask the children what they need," Sirait said.
"We need to help them get better lives. When they have the skills then they won\\\’t have to look for work on the streets."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged an increased focus on children\\\’s welfare, renaming the women\\\’s ministry the State Ministry for Women\\\’s Empowerment and Children\\\’s Protection last October.
But the ministry has yet to issue any comment or revised policies after the Babeh case.
The social affairs ministry is considering an additional 50 billion rupiah (5.35 million dollars) to support government-run shelters, which have proven unable to cope with the sheer number of needy children.
Sunan Kalijaga University expert Muhrisun Afandi said government shelters often rejected unruly children — such as those who had been forced to work on the streets instead of going to school.
"They don\\\’t understand the children\\\’s situations," he said.
"The standards they expect are impossible for such children. You can\\\’t help them get off the streets … if programmes on the front line don\\\’t change."
Whether the government\\\’s policies change or not, Arif\\\’s mother Hudaiva hopes to give her four remaining children the chance to lead a different life.
"I want to save some money and set up a stall that my children can manage," she said.
"I don\\\’t want them to work on the streets anymore."