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City's children lacking safe places to play

Jakarta Post - July 26, 2006

Anissa S. Febrina, Jakarta – As soon as he got home from school Monday, eight-year old Yoga changed out of his uniform, reached for his yellow plastic kite and ran out to join several friends in a narrow alley in Cipete, South Jakarta.

His first attempt at flying the kite failed when it hit an electricity pole on one side of the lane. A few minutes later the kite made it into the air, but then a motorcycle forced Yoga to move, and down came the toy. Child's play is anything but easy in Jakarta.

"The development of the city has not paid enough attention to the needs of children, even for something as basic as playing," non-governmental organization Plan Indonesia project manager Amrullah said Monday. "We plan to push the agenda in order to get children heard in the process of making the city's spatial plan," he said.

Currently, the city's open green space covers only 7,250 hectares, nine percent of the city's total area. Jakarta plans to increase the percentage of open green space to 13.94 percent by 2010, a smaller target than the 26 percent stated in the city's 1985-2005 spatial plan.

With some 32 percent of Jakartans living in houses that provide less than 10 square meters of space per person, many children are forced to play on the streets.

Indonesia lags behind other countries in public outdoor facility ratios. There is just over half a square meter of open public space for each person in Jakarta. In comparison, the ratio is two square meters per person in Malaysia, and in crowded Japan it is five square meters per person.

As a result of the lack of open spaces, especially playgrounds and parks, children make use of whatever areas are available to them. Those living in shanty towns behind business districts play in empty building project lots. As soon as construction starts, the children lose their football field.

Median strips often serve the same function. Drivers frequently complain about children running in front of cars while pursuing balls and toys.

A 2003 study of Kwitang, Central Jakarta, conducted by urban planning researcher Hamid Patilima concluded that the city administration had not paid enough attention to providing open public spaces. As a result, children in Kwitang play in parking lots, on riverbanks and in the street.

Access to a close, safe and suitable play area is recognized as a basic right in the United Nations Convention on Children's Rights.

The Indonesian Children's Welfare Foundation says Indonesia's children were ranked last in a recent study of fitness and physical level in Asian children, a dismal result aided by the absence of recreation areas available in the country, particularly for city children.

The study also showed Indonesian children spend most of their time at home, either doing homework or – less productively – watching television.

Various businesses have opened recreation centers in the city's malls and commercial outdoor playgrounds in suburban areas such as Serpong and Depok. But with entrance fees of around Rp 35,000, many people cannot afford to take their children to such parks. Children like Yoga are left to play in the streets and alleyways, competing with cars and motorcycles for space.