When considering the best options for children, we considerwhere they will be well cared for, where they will have somewhere safe andhealthy to live, where they will be able to go to school, and where they willbe surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart.
I imagine that if I were to ask ten people where, or withwhom, children should live, the overwhelming answer would be with theirparents. Studies suggest (citation to come later if I can find it) thatchildren suffer emotional trauma when separated from their parents, confirmingthe sentiment that children should stay with them. However, living with parentsis not always the best place for all children, sometimes parents are willing tocare for children, but unable due to limited resources or outside stressorssuch as war, natural disasters, or the death of one or both of the parents. Onthe other hand, sometimes parents are able to care for children, but unwilling;they may demonstrate their unwillingness by treating them poorly or harshly, orsimply neglecting them.
But, generally speaking, as long as parents do not fall intothe “unwilling” category, we imagine that children (here we mean anyone under18) fare better with their parents than when they live on their own, especiallyin an urban setting. But I was interested to hear differently from the researchteam during our end of project debriefing yesterday. We went through all thedifferent “sub-groups” of children we had identified, who were divided by thetype of job they did, the amount of time spent in Jakarta, age, gender, and bywhether they lived with their parents, among other things. Researchers reportedthat children in highly vulnerable sub-groups of children, such as those livingin temporary shelters, working on the street, and engaging in drug and alcoholuse, criminal activities, and transactional sex and sex work, did not appear tobe more or less likely to live with their parents than children whose lifestylepresents less vulnerability to harm. I can’t confirm this from our researchyet, as the data analysis hasn’t been completed, but the researchers had thestrong impression that many children moved to Jakarta with their parents, whothen pushed them to earn money, and weren’t particularly concerned about whereit came from. In some cases parents even pushed children into high-risk workbecause there is sometimes opportunity to earn more in such activities.
This might not seem so surprising to some people, there havealways been parents who valued the financial survival of the family as a wholeover the emotional, mental, and physical well being of one child. But thedominant paradigm of much of child protection often rests upon the fact thatfamily support helps children do well; and while this may be the case in mostcircumstances, it is essential for organizations (and governments) engaging inprogramming with this population to remember that keeping (or reuniting)children with their parents may not be in their best interest, and in fact,just because a child is doing something dangerous for money doesn’t necessarilymean the child lacks parental guidance, but that the parent’s interests are notwhat is best for the child.
I'm home from Indonesia now, and will be here for about two weeks before I head back to Indonesia again, coincidentally, for my next project, so look for more posts soon!