Sri, a Clam Sheller

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“Child protection seeks to guarantee the fulfillment of a child’s right to life, grow, develop and full participation in keeping with humanitarian integrity and dignity as well as the right to be protected from violence and discrimination in order to bring forth prosperous Indonesian children of quality with noble character”.

(Law No. 23/2002 on Child Protection, Chapter II, Article 3)

Sri (14) is a girl among hundreds of other children from the fishing community in Kalibaru, Cilincing, North Jakarta. Still at an impressionable age, she must strive hard to help her parents put food on the table by working as a clam sheller. By removing green clams from corals or other places on which they embed themselves to and breed, she toils five hours a day for a paltry Rp 8,000.

Sri works amongst filth, reeking with an offensive stench and littered with clam shards. Such working conditions are indeed deleterious to her health and safety. To be able to eke out an existence, she is compelled to work as a clam sheller since she was six, despite having to work under conditions harmful to her growth and development as a child. The speed at which her hands shell clams is even faster than her mother’s pace as Sri has learned to deal with the bivalves at an early age. Her initial attempts at shelling often resulted in cuts and nicks to her small hands due to the sharpness of the clam shards. She is now a trained worker and rarely injures her hands.

In addition to her work as a clam sheller, as the oldest girl in the house, Sri helps her mother cook, wash the dishes and tend to her younger sibling Malvina, bathing and feeding her little sister. In between her tiring work, she manages to steal time to be a typical girl, playing with other girls her own age in the fishing village. Sri enjoys playing jump rope and the ball and jack game in school, and the traditional congklak when at home.

Born in Jakarta, on the 30th of May 1995, Sri is the daughter of Karsana (50) and Darkunah (45). She is the fifth among 8 siblings of five boys and 3 girls. Home to her is an uninhabitable shack at No. 70 Kalibaru, Cilincing sub-district, North Jakarta. She and her family however, have humbly accepted their manner of living. For Sri, home is her haven.

Karsana, Sri’s father mines sea sand for construction material used to build houses around the Cilincing area. Karsana previously worked as a fisherman. Owing to the economic crisis, fuel price to operate fishing boats and kerosene lamps continue to increase and coupled with the costly price of ice to chill fish, Karsana could no longer afford to meet the costs for going out to sea. He eventually had to sell off his boat to make ends meet. He then became a seaman in Kalimantan for 4 months before he decided to return to Jakarta. He now suffers from hearing loss.

Sri’s mother, Darkunah has 5 siblings and has never had an education. Since an early age she too earned a living as a clam sheller while looking after her younger siblings or hawking fish in her village. Darkunah works hard to make sure that Sri enters school.

At the local primary school, Sri sets an example for her friends. Since first grade, Sri has never ceased to be thankful for being able to go to school. She has the most pleasant personality. She will never trouble others and is quick to lend a hand to friends in need. Once she has done her school homework, she even teaches other less fortunate children in the fishing village to read and write.

Sri is also a dutiful believer. After observing the obligatory prayer at dusk, she habitually recites the Qur’an with a circle of friends. She takes pleasure in playing by the beach or an area known as PM (an Indonesian abbreviation for ‘cremation’) as it lies in proximity to a Chinese cremation center.

Sri the clam sheller is a portrait of a typical girl’s life in a fishing village. Economic hardship primarily due to government economic policies has compelled Sri and many others like her to face a similar fate. Theirs is a life of working hard since childhood, forsaking their time to learn and play, subsisting on inadequate nutrition intake that impedes healthy growth and having to face a grim future.

The state particularly the government must be held accountable for their plight, otherwise the government has violated the 1945 Constitution which is the constitution of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.