Monday, 5 June 2017

Helping Jasmine

By: Felice Bakker, JPO, Child Protection

As part of UNICEF Indonesia’s approach to modelling scalable interventions, I am documenting good birth registration practices at our nine pilot sites across Indonesia.  On this occasion, I was able to meet with a family who benefited from UNICEF’s pilot in Makassar, where partnerships are facilitated with local NGO’s to register vulnerable children, including those with disabilities.

Jasmine (left) poses with the author (center), her two children and friend Irma at home in Makassar
Makassar: Jasmine* is quadriplegic. So are her two youngest children. Her three-year-old daughter Nur needs to be carried, while her five-year-old son Ali has to walk on all fours.

During antenatal visits to hospitals in years past, doctors told Jasmine that a disabled mother couldn’t possibly raise children the right way, advising her to use contraceptives to avoid future pregnancies. Needless to say, Jasmine disagreed.

To learn more about Jasmine’s life as a mother with disability and the challenges she faces, a colleague and I visited her at her home in Makassar, South Sulawesi. She greeted us warmly at the door, inviting us inside to meet her three children, whose laughter could already be heard from the street.

I was amazed to learn that Jasmine, despite her quadriplegia, still manages to work as a tailor, running a small business with another woman named Irma. Together, the two women spend 8-12 hours a day behind the sewing machine, stitching everything from trousers to dresses. The income isn’t much, but it’s enough to keep the family above the poverty line.

Jasmine also talked about the challenge of accessing services like birth certificates. In Indonesia, only 66 per cent of children aged under 18 years and 60 per cent of children under 4 years have a birth certificate, and in Makassar the figures are even lower. The barriers to registration are distance, costs and not understanding the process to obtain one, and are especially challenging for families like Jasmine’s because of her limited mobility.

UNICEF, in partnership with Makassar-based NGOs, has undertaken a pilot project to help disadvantaged children acquire birth certificates. To steer the effort, UNICEF partner Bursa Pengetahuan Kawasan Timu Indonesia (BaKTI) has trained local NGOs on community outreach strategies for helping families compile the necessary documentation. With support from BaKTI, 604 vulnerable children have received a birth certificate since late 2016.

In Jasmine’s case, UNICEF partner NGO Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI) succeeded in obtaining a birth certificate for Nur, ensuring she can enter primary school in a few years. A UNICEF colleague also helped Jasmine apply with the Ministry of Social Affairs for assistance funds for disabled children. With any luck, the family will soon be able to access this crucial, Rp300,000-a-month benefit.

Today, Jasmine’s biggest concern isn’t financial – it’s worrying about what awaits her children as they start primary school. In a country where 20 per cent of students experience bullying, “what’s in store for Ali?” she wonders. “Will he be teased?”

Ali himself appears nonplussed.

“God created me this way,” the five-year-old said, “so this must be what God wants.” Jasmine nodded wistfully. 

It is through visits with remarkable families like Jasmine’s that I feel most connected to UNICEF’s work. The resilience displayed by this family is profound and moving, and reminds me of what makes these interventions so important – to make a lasting difference for children.

*names have been changed