UNICEF says Indonesia on verge of creating 'lost generation'
November 17, 1999
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- UNICEF is warning that Indonesia, which has been plagued by traumatic and often violent changes in the past two years, could be on the verge of creating a "lost generation."
The psychological effect of clashes, rioting and political turmoil in the world's fourth most-populous nation, with 210 million people, in recent years has taken its toll on Indonesia's children, UNICEF said Wednesday.
The number of Indonesians living below the poverty line -- 32 million who are children under age 15 -- has doubled during the nation's economic crisis.
U.N. officials say more than 100 children in West Timor have died since October, most from diarrhea and respiratory problems.
Families are not getting enough to eat. Approximately half of Indonesia's children under age two suffer from malnutrition so severe they may grow up with permanent brain damage.
"We have a real danger of Indonesia having a lost generation -- a generation of children that are malnourished, that have not been able to go to school," UNICEF spokesman Stephen Woodhouse said.
"They, therefore, will not be able to compete with their counterparts in neighboring countries," Woodhouse added.
In most Indonesian cities, including the capital of Jakarta, children are dropping out of school. One former student, Firdaus, now sings for a living on Jakarta's streets. His parents are scavengers who rely on his earnings .
"I do this to support my family," Firdaus said.
UNICEF says Indonesia must act quickly to address the problem.
Government coping with massive problems
But some people are suggesting that may not happen soon enough. A new government, led by President Abdurrahman Wahid, took office a month ago, and has been coping with massive economic, political and social problems.
Wahid suggested earlier in the week the troubled province of Aceh might be able to vote on its ties with Indonesia within seven months. Demands for an independence vote has been growing in recent months.
East Timor overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence during a referendum in August. The vote sparked clashes, looting and a rampage by anti-independence militants. Australian-led peacekeeping forces were deployed to the region.
Social workers suggest (government officials), despite coping with such issues, must listen to the cry of the children because Indonesia's future will be determined by today's children.
"The most deprived ones are the children. So for this problem, there has to be a rescue -- to get them out from the danger and then to rehabilitate them," said Dr. Lili Rilantono of the Children's Welfare Foundation.
Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report.
Timor's Belo says rights probe too late
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