Children's Rights to a Family: Op-ed

Arfi Bambani
Children (illustration)
Children (illustration) - When I was studying for a bachelor's degree at the Faculty of Law, Gadjah Mada University, in a session of the Customary Law lecture I was attending, I argued with the lecturer who was teaching.

The argument was on the definition of a family. The lecturer defines family consists of "father, mother and child". I then debated it as a Javanese-biased approach. I use the term "Javanese bias" because we were in a context of Customary Law. If it was in the Civil Law lecture, I prefer to call it liberal/ modern bias.

In the Minangkabau traditional system, the father is not part of the family. Father is a guest in a matrilocal marriage. A family in matrilineal Minangkabau consists of the child, mother, siblings of the mother (male or female), and mother of the mother. Grandmother siblings can be included in the extended family. Again, the father is a guest. Father is ash on the stump that can be blown by the wind at any time and disappears.

The debate was intense as the lecture finally dissolved. The lecturer walked out of the lecture hall. I was confused. The other students were keen to know what was going on. Some college mates always remember me because of this debate, as the person who made the lecturer walk out. (I hope the lecturer will not be mad at me for the rest of her life).

I deliberately opened this story to lead us to the purpose of this article. It is about children and family.

The definition of family will reflect how society raises children. There is a saying, "It takes a village to raise a child". In ancient Minangkabau, this expression felt true because it was almost like a whole village growing a child.

In the ancient Minangkabau system, a married man had double roles. As a father at his wife's house and as an uncle or called "Mamak" for his nephew at his mother's house. During the day he becomes a Mamak at his mother's house, at night he returns to his wife's house. Practically, a man spends more time with his nephew than with his child.

Since the house is under the dominion of the matriarch or the elderly woman, a boy is more likely to be outside the home. In the house called Rumah Gadang where a boy has no room of his own, they sleep on the veranda of the house.

This is why the Surau tradition where boys sleep and do activities in the Surau has relevance. Boys will tend to sleep outside the house, in the Surau. In this Surau, boys learn the religion, Koran, martial art, and various other skills. This is the moment where "It takes a village to raise a child".

However, it is important to note that this period of stay in the Surau generally occurs during adolescence before approaching puberty. In the golden period, children in the Minangkabau system were raised in a house led by a matriarch and a Mamak as Tunganai or a kind of captain.

Throughout civilization, the role of the family to raise children was first dismantled by the church through the institution we know as an orphanage. The children are raised and educated in orphanages, even though some of these children still have close relatives who can care for them, but the poverty triggers them to give up child care to orphanages.

The Roman Empire set up orphanages for the children of their deceased soldiers who died in the war. Of course, because at that time the state and religion were one, the orphanage was under the care of religious leaders as well.

Islam, a religion that emerged later after Christianity, initially did not recognize this orphanage system. Prophet Muhammad SAW who was orphaned at the age of 6 years was raised in a family, cared for by his grandfather and uncle.

We also do not hear the story of an orphanage when the Prophet was still alive. One thing the Prophet did if his friend died in the war was to marry his widow, which I think was a form of his responsibility towards the family left by his friend.

In Indonesia, the Islamic version of the orphanage was introduced by Muhammadiyah which later be the largest Muslim organization in the country. Not clear exactly why Muhammadiyah adopted the orphanage model as an alternative to educating and raising orphans or left children.

My mother, a Muhammadiyah activist, also helped founding an orphanage in our hometown. And I know that some who live there still have close relatives like mothers, but the poverty factor makes them send their children to the orphanage.

There were also experiments inspired by the ideologies such as Marxism that dismantled the role of a family in raising children. Children are raised in a communal area, co-living with adults. All children are children of everyone. These experiments fail because, of which, they leave children vulnerable to exploitation by adults around them.

The orphanage approach itself has been abandoned in many developed countries such as the United States. The United States has de-institutionalized orphanages since the mid-20th century. Children who are orphaned, abandoned, or have to be taken in by the state because, for example, of having abusive parents, will get foster homes or adoptive families.

While waiting for them to get a foster home, these children will be placed in some kind of temporary shelter. Several Hollywood films illustrate this process. Steve Jobs is an example of a historical figure who was raised by this kind of adoptive family.

Why did the United States and some other countries de-institutionalize orphanages? Apart from being triggered by a series of scandals in orphanages (as we often hear in Indonesia today), ranging from sexual scandals to economic exploitation, some studies have found that the best place for children to grow up is in a family.

In Indonesia, the existence of orphanages seems to be without a question. The Central Statistics Agency data in 2021, in Central Java Province alone there are 607 orphanages. In Special Capital Jakarta Province, based on the Katadata report, in 2020, 53 orphanages took care of 3,408 children. So it is estimated that there are thousands of orphanages in Indonesia which has 37 provinces.

And these orphanages are not without problems. If we search for “orphanage violence” on Google, there are more than 513,000 search results. The search results are in the form of news, academic research, or reports from non-governmental organizations. I did not find any discourse about the need for the de-institutionalization of orphanages in Indonesia, encouraging every child in Indonesia to be raised in a family.

So, on this National Children's Day this time --Indonesian celebrate it every July 23-- is the right moment to talk about this. We need to think about the importance of every Indonesian child being raised in a family, not in an orphanage, let alone on the streets. Being raised in a family is the right of every child.

The family is the first and most important educational institution for a human being. A healthy and happy family will raise a healthy and happy human being too.

Tag # national children's day # children # children's rights # human rights # indonesia children # indonesia human rights # customary law

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