Indonesia's children and panti asuhan Most Indonesian children are raised within their family home, either by parents or other family members, or in the homes of extended family members. Children who live away from their immediate and extended families do so in a range of differing residential circumstances.
There are three main types of institutions in Indonesia that provide care and education to children on a residential basis outside the family home which are collectively known as panti sosial anak:
boarding schools or pesantren or pondok pesantren (pondok means dormitory) that provide full-time care and education based on Islamic principles at no or minimal direct financial cost (these may be called different names in different places, for example, dayah in Aceh);
panti sosial penyandang cacat, or institutions that care for children with disabilities; and,
panti asuhan, or institutions for orphaned, neglected or abandoned children (Save the Children UK et al. 2006, p. 15).
What are panti asuhan? Besides pesantren, the other major form of residential child care is panti asuhan. Panti asuhan is an Indonesian language term that denotes a place for the rearing of orphans and children who live away from their family.
The word panti is commonly translated as a ‘home’, ‘residence’ or ‘institution’. The word asuhan means ‘rearing’, ‘education’ or ‘upbringing’. The root term from which the word asuhan derives is asuh, meaning ‘to nurse’ or ‘to bring up’). The term ‘panti asuhan’ is often coined as the shortened form of panti sosial asuhan anak, which is translated as ‘institutions for the upbringing of children’ (anak or child) or ‘social institutions for the care of children’.
Both panti sosial asuhan anak and panti asuhan are often shortened to panti or its Anglicised plural form, pantis. Panti asuhan is the term used in this study to denote these various forms in both plural and singular senses.
Orphanages were unknown in Indonesian society as places for the care of orphaned, neglected or abandoned children prior to the arrival of Dutch colonists in the early sixteenth century; such children were generally raised by relatives and others within local communities (Babington 2015). Orphanages were introduced by the Dutch colonial government. In the early twentieth century, the Dutch orphanage model was appropriated by local Islamic socio-religious welfare organisations who expanded the number of panti asuhan throughout Indonesia.
President Sukarno supported the growth of panti asuhan to help care for children who had been abandoned or orphaned during and after World War Two. Under Suharto, the number of panti asuhan grew rapidly due to strong State financial and other forms of support, a trend that continued over much of the first decade of the Reformasi era (Babington 2015). Read more here about the history of panti asuhan.
Panti asuhan: key characteristics There is considerable fluidity, and hence room for confusion, in relation to how different forms of Indonesian children’s institutions are defined and categorised. One of the most significant definitional problems arises because children may be placed in pesantren by their families not only to access Islamic education but, as with panti asuhan, also to help cope with family financial hardship (Hicks 2011, pp. 57-59).
While panti asuhan are generally regarded as places for children whose families cannot afford school fees and of lower social status than pesantren, the distinction between them is often blurred. All panti asuhan provide free education, food and lodging to children, although children in them are frequently required to perform tasks such as cleaning and meal preparation (Save the Children UK et al. 2007, p. 189).
Some pesantren provide free education to children depending on their family’s financial circumstances and may describe themselves as panti asuhan. Save the Children UK et al. (2006) noted, for example, that some children’s institutions in Aceh described themselves as either or both a dayah (pesantren) and a panti asuhan in order to access different sources of government funding (pp. 13-16). In other places, a panti asuhan may be run within a pesantren or other educational facilities such as kindergartens and elementary schools.
How many panti asuhan are there?In the absence of a comprehensive national child protection and care information system, no accurate and up-to-date information is available about the number of children’s institutions, or the number of children in these institutions, in Indonesia (this problem of counting is also seen in many other areas relating to child protection and care in Indonesia to the present day, such as in the fields of early marriage and children subjected to sexual violence (Boothby & Stark 2011, pp. 993-95)).
Save the Children UK et al. (2007, p. 19) estimated that there were between 5,250 and over 8,610 institutions, in which between 370,230 and 516,000 children lived. Using data about the number of panti asuhan that were provided with government fuel subsidy reduction compensation the Indonesian Government (2013) stated that, in 2009, 167,000 children lived in 5,712 panti asuhan. Yet, other Indonesian Government figures differ. In 2013, Senior Advisor to the Indonesian Minister of Social Welfare and former Director-General for Social Services and Rehabilitation in the Ministry of Social Affairs (widely known in Indonesia as Kemensos, the acronym for Kementerian Sosial), Makmur Sunusi (2013), stated that institutional care in Indonesia had been ‘very much on the rise’ during the early 2000s, with 8,000 panti asuhan caring for up to half a million children. He added that 90 per cent of children in panti asuhan were not orphans, but had been placed in institutions due to parental poverty.
Who owns and funds panti asuhan? The full picture of who owns and operates Indonesia’s panti asuhan is also far from clear. Comprehensive and up-to-date information about panti asuhan ownership is not available, although estimates can be made from a range of sources.
The three largest operators of panti asuhan are the mass Indonesian socio-religious organisations, Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama and, to a lesser extent, Hidayatullah. With a strong rural base especially in central and eastern Java, Nahdlatul Ulama is the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia with an estimated 50 million members. Muhammadiyah is the second largest Islamic organisation with an estimated 35 million members drawn predominantly from educated urban backgrounds (Mujani & Liddle 2004, p. 111).
Nahdlatul Ulama & Muhammadiyah Most pesantren are affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama. Many Nahdlatul Ulama-affiliated pesantren share the same main characteristics as panti asuhan run by other organisations, that is, they mostly provide food, shelter and basic education for children who are either orphaned or, more frequently, sent by poor families so that their children can access educational opportunities.
Nahdlatul Ulama loosely coordinates its pesantren through a foundation called Yayasan Al Maarif although individual pesantren usually operate with a high degree of autonomy under the control of a kyai. By contrast, Muhammadiyah exercises greater centralised control over its panti asuhan as well as its other education and health care institutions (Sirry 2010, pp. 60-74, Hicks 2011, p. 58).
There are a variety of estimates of the number of Muhammadiyah-operated panti asuhan. Lubis (2004) put the number at 240 (p. 106). Fauzia (2008) claimed that Muhammadiyah operated 330 orphanages, with a key role in panti asuhan management being played by women from Muhammadiyah’s adult-women’s branch, ‘Aisyiyah (p. 180). Muhammadiyah’s own documents state that it operated 421 panti asuhan in 2010 (Central Board of Muhammadiyah 2010). Yet another figure, provided to the author by a member of Muhammadiyah’s social welfare staff, was that, in 2013, Muhammadiyah operated between 750 and 1,000 panti asuhan (2013, pers. comm., 2 August).
The number of panti asuhan operated by Nahdlatul Ulama is even less precisely known, reflecting the fact that, at the national level, Nahdlatul Ulama exercises little administrative control over its local panti asuhan. Save the Children UK et al. (2007) estimated that Nahdlatul Ulama operated 103 panti asuhan, while another Islamic organisation, Hidayatullah, had 246 branches, most of which ran panti asuhan (as a form of pesantren, which it described as centres for the education of pious children or Pusat Pendidikan Anak Shaleh) (p. 22).
Other supporters Numerous other Islamic organisations operate panti asuhan. These organisations include Al Amin, Nur Ilahi and Ibnu Taimiyah in West Kalimantan, Al Ummah in Aceh, Al Hidayah, Nurul Ikhlas in Maluku, and Nahdlatul Wathon in Nusa Tenggara Barat and other provinces (Save the Children UK et al. 2007, p. 65). In 2000, the minority Islamic group, Ahmadiyah, opened a panti asuhan in Tasikmalaya, West Java (Rayda 2010).
In addition, overseas Islamic organisations fund panti asuhan in Indonesia. In the 1990s, Al-Birr—the Charitable Foundation of Royal Family of Dubai—opened an office within Muhammadiyah’s premises in Jakarta. Later renamed the Asian Muslim Ceretif Foretion (Asian Muslim Charity Foundation), this organisation has since funded 89 orphanages, most of which are operated by Muhammadiyah and some by Persatuan Islam (Persis), an organisation which, since being founded in 1923, has been active in establishing pesantren, particularly in West Java (Latief 2012, pp. 237-38).
Panti asuhan are also operated by non-Islamic religious and secular organisations and individuals. There are, for example, several Christian-run panti asuhan in West Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, and Maluku (Siahaan 2009, Buwalda 2011, Jaringan Kerja Lembaga-Lembaga Pelayanan Kristen di Indonesia (JKLPK) 2013). Secular international organisations that run panti asuhan include SOS Children’s Villages International, which operates in several provinces, including West Java, Jakarta, Bali and Aceh (SOS children’s villages Indonesia 2013).
Individuals and groups from other countries also contribute financially to, and even operate, pantiasuhan. Overseas-sourced donations to panti asuhan include those from Muslims in countries such as Australia who contribute to orphanages, especially at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, through collection and remittance agencies (Marcoes 2015).
The Indonesian Government itself operates panti asuhan, although in very small numbers compared with private religious and other providers. In 2007, of between 4,305 and 8,610 panti asuhan, the Indonesian Government operated only 35 panti asuhan, whilst an unknown number were run directly by province and district governments (Save the Children UK et al. 2007, pp. 1, 18). Panti asuhan receive financial support from a variety of sources in addition to, or separate from, the national government. In the absence of comprehensive, publicly-available reporting on panti asuhan internal financial matters, glimpses were provided by the 2007 Save the Children-led study and from the author’s examination of panti asuhan websites.
Save the Children UK et al. (2007) found at least eight revenue sources in the panti asuhan sample group (pp. 72-73). While important income sources for many panti asuhan were the national government’s fuel subsidy reduction compensation scheme and grants provided by sub-national levels of government in the context of administrative decentralisation from Jakarta, other sources included donations from individuals and the community, private companies, international supporters and the panti asuhan’s parent organisation (see Babington 2015 on how Islamic charitable giving practices support panti asuhan).
What do we know about the quality of care of children in panti asuhan? Research into the quality of care and the wellbeing of children in Indonesia’s panti asuhan is in its infancy. From an academic standpoint there has been only relatively limited examination of how panti asuhan operate and their short and long-term effects on children. As at 2016, only five academic studies relating specifically to child wellbeing in panti asuhan had been issued. These derive from the fields of paediatrics, psychiatry, social anthropology and social work. Read these studies here. In addition to these studies, in 2006, Save the Children in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF issued a report entitled A rapid assessment of children’s homes in post-tsunami Aceh, which examined the situation for children in Aceh who had been displaced by the 2004 tsunami (Save the Children UK et al. 2006).
In 2007, Save the Children, again working in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF, issued a report entitled ‘Someone that matters’. The quality of care in childcare institutions in Indonesia. The latter report examined the circumstances for children living in 37 panti asuhan in six Indonesian provinces, including Aceh (Save the Children UK et al. 2007) .
In 2013, Save the Children issued a report entitled Changing the paradigm. Save the Children’s work to strengthen the child protection system in Indonesia 2005-2012 which provided an overview of Save the Children’s work in Indonesia since 2005 aimed at improving child protection and family support, with a particular focus on childcare institutions.
Finally, in 2012, UNICEF’s Indonesia office, in conjunction with the SMERU Research Institute (an independent research and public policy studies institute based in Jakarta) and the Indonesian Government’s Ministry of National Development Planning (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional or Bappenas) issued a report entitled Child poverty and disparities in Indonesia: challenges for inclusive growth. This report contained a brief qualitative assessment of a panti asuhan in north Jakarta. Read these studies here. —The editor