GABY RUSLI WRITES — Beggars roam the busiest streets of Indonesia’s capital cities, some with the intent to gather funds for a cause no one really knows much about, while others simply out of a desperate desire to survive. Imagine you’re a typical driver running errands on a Wednesday. You’ve stopped to wait your turn at the traffic stop. You look to your side and a teenager of around 15 is pressing his face onto your driver-side window. Intimidating and uncomfortable, is it not? Well, what if, on top of his persistent presence on your window, he’s peeking in while looking so forlorn and hopeless, and says, “Sir, please, I have to feed my little sister who’s sick and my mother who is disabled?” If you say no, you feel terrible and will think about your actions all day. If you say yes, you’d feel better because you feel that you’ve helped the best that you can. What if, the act of kindness you just did was actually part of the problem in the long run?
In reality, many beggars in Indonesia are part of a complicated system of the poor exploiting the poorer— the vulnerable working the most vulnerable. Displaced children with little to no parental presence or support have, unfortunately, been taught to beg.
There is no definite explanation as to why children are the center of this exploitative system but some possible explanations may be due to the fact that children are more moldable into obedient workers; and, of course, we are particularly sympathetic towards a poor child. Groups of children are assigned to different areas of the busiest streets and taught to act in ways that would encourage sympathy from their audience (such as at traffic stops). They are assigned quotas that, if not met, would more likely be accompanied by punishment ranging from moderate to severe, such as no lunch or dinner … or worse.
The proper authorities’ involvement in the matter remains limited as they’re challenged with the moral question: what do we do about it? The result, over in Indonesia, is that beggars are mildly tolerated. This indifference has encouraged more young people to take up begging instead of trying to find more substantive and sustainable work.
For a country that’s barely hanging onto the title of middle class, such matters are truly sad. The title of middle class for a country like Indonesia is misleading. In theory, it makes sense to upgrade Indonesia’s status after its official GNI index increased due to a growing number of rich citizens getting richer. But Indonesia’s majority is still plagued with poverty and marginal standards of living.
Beggars are one of the counterparts of a developing country and they are negatively affecting Indonesia’s future. Those forced to beg are impacted by those who simply see begging as an easy way to make a living. Instead of seeking proper employment, younger disadvantaged or less than privileged youths are indirectly being told to choose the easy way out. And Indonesians’ general generational philosophy of “minding your own business” further cements the prevalence of morale-eroding shortcuts.
The Indonesian government and its privileged minority hold the key to reshaping their nation’s future outcome and future generation’s quality. Their combined resources and cooperation could help provide the right platform, method, and institutions to create alternatives for those at risk and vulnerable. Even if they cannot stop those at risk from seeking or falling victim to shortcuts, they can significantly lower the number. It is never a question of what they should do. Will they work together? Or will they, too, mind their own businesses?