Underage porters working in Central Jakarta

Lukman, 8, carried his customer's cabin-size suitcase from the bottom to the top of the stairs at Tanah Abang Station in Central Jakarta. He claimed the bag weighed about 11 kg, almost half his body weight.

Lukman is one of dozens of child porters who ply their trade at Tanah Abang Station and nearby market every day. They say they earn more during the fasting month because more people come for shopping.

Seven other youngsters, aged between 8 and 16 years, were also working that day. They approached customers at the bottom of the station's stairs, offering them help carrying their luggage to the top.

They said they could earn between Rp 50,000 (S$5.07) and Rp 200,000 per day, depending on how busy it was.

Tanji, a lad of around 13 - he did not know his exact age - said he could earn up to Rp 200,000 a day during the fasting month because he was very active in approaching customers even though he had a speech problem. In other months, he usually earned half that amount.

"I carry 2- to 15-kg bags each time and I can do it up to 10 times a day. I can carry bags on my head and in my hands. Customers pay fees of around Rp 5,000 to Rp 50,000, depending on their sympathy," the boy from Tomang, West Jakarta, explained with the help of his friends.

Tanji, whose mother is a washerwoman and father a street singer, said that unlike his three older and two younger sisters who still went to school, he had dropped out.

None of the other young porters went to school anymore, except Wahyu, 9, who is in the fourth grade of an elementary school in Jati Bunder, Tanah Abang.

Wahyu said he started doing the job last year after his friends asked him to join. "I earn Rp 50,000 to Rp 100,000 a day, most of which, I give to my mother. I carry around 2- to 6-kg bags," Wahyu said.

Wahyu's cousin, Natasia, who is a food seller near the station, said that Wahyu's mother, a single mom, had begged him not to work but he refused because he said he wanted to help his mother, who works as a childminder in Rawa Belong, West Jakarta. He is her youngest child.

One of the shoppers, Agustina, a 32-year-old Depok resident, had just finished shopping and was heading to the station. She let Wahyu help her with her 5-kg bag for various reasons. "I pity them and I'm tired after a day's shopping in this fasting month," Agustina said.

These children are not among the organised porters of Blok A, which has 900 official porters. However, even among the official porters, perhaps 30 are minors between 15 and 17 years of age, according to an official.

"We hire them as freelancer so there is no attendance system. We don't give them salaries and they don't share their earnings with us. They just have to pay a weekly fee of Rp 10,000," said Zulkifli a supervisor of Blok A porters.

Blok A porter Udin (not his real name), 16, from Rangkas Bitung, Banten, joined only last month.

"The registration is easy. I only showed my ID card, gave my photos and paid Rp 350,000 to get two uniforms and a working ID," he said, adding that he carried around 20-kg bags at a time and earned about Rp 100,000 a day.

Udin added that he quit school last year out of economic necessity and chose the job because his father also worked as a porter there.

International Labor Organisation project manager Arum Ratnawati says child labour is still a problem in the capital, especially because of the presence of street children.

"Child labour is mainly a result of poverty as well as other factors such as poor quality education. When education is no longer fun for children, they will search for a replacement," she said.