AngloInfo Text_Living with Teenagers in Indonesia


Living with Teenagers in Indonesia

Youth versus Adulthood

In the West, teenagers are synonymous with youth and the young.  Rites of passage from youth into adulthood are most often associated with graduation from secondary or tertiary educational institutions.

In Indonesia, the “teenager” as defined chronologically by the age range of 13-19 is best translated as Remaja.  But Remaja more specifically refers to middle school and high school students. Mahasiswa translates best as college students, regardless of their age. The Bahasa Indonesian word pemuda, translates as “youth”. As a general term it includes both the Remaja and Mahasiswa student-aged groups. 

In a wider sociological sense, “youth” takes on more a more complex meaning beyond just age or student status.  It is not necessarily strictly bound by age or level of education.  “Youth” might be more generally thought of as all those younger people who have entered puberty but have not yet married.  Marriage is the key discriminating factor in this regard. True, the greater percentage of Indonesian youth are teenagers or in their twenties and still in school, but marriage signals entry into adulthood more so than any other single factor, irrespective of age.  It is what most succinctly differentiates pemuda from dewasa (youth from adults).

In this sense, many “youth organizations” have members who range in age up to even forty years, though marriage will not necessarily bar membership at an advanced age.  This all depends on the requirements as set forth by each organization.


The Importance of Indonesia’s Young

Youth and youth organizations have played a pivotal role in the history of Indonesia.  Pre-independence, youth congresses served to develop the leadership and ideas that would ultimately transform Indonesia from a colony into an independent nation.  Post-independence, the country’s political elite promoted youth organizations, funded them, and used them in part to advance their political agendas.  At the same time, the rise of independent student organizations at the university level mushroomed and often worked in opposition to government policy.  In fact, it was student revolt during 1998 which catapulted Indonesia out of authoritarianism and into the democratic age.

In the religious sphere, youth organizations abound as well.  The resurgence of Islam following the many Islamic revolutions across the third world in the 1970’s has fostered the creation of countless Islamic youth organizations.  The interests of every recognized religion in Indonesia are promoted and protected by their own youth organizations.  In Indonesia, where there is politics there is religion, and the two are manifest in the aspirations the older generation have for their children as the promise for a better future.

This does not mean that youth organizations don’t promote “having fun” and engaging in all manner of activities most often associated with youth.  But the influences and concerns of the adult world are melded into the greater ethos of the organizations. It is not only expected that leadership development and all manner of socialization will be carried out in course of participation, but that the organization will actually help effect all manner of national life directly. 

The mission and vision of Indonesia’s most prominent youth organizations emerge from this historical context.  Those predisposed to looking for organized youth activities that are purely recreational will find them.  Scouting, for instance, is very popular in Indonesia, and the country has the largest scouting organization in the world.  Still, political, religious, and even business interests are eager to co-opt the support of even recreational groups.  It is significant that the president’s cabinet includes a Ministry of Youth and Sports.  The ministry funds and helps organize youth organizations and their activities.  It is difficult for youth organizations to operate outside the spheres of governmental, religious, and business influence.


Major Youth Organizations

Primary and premiere exemplars of youth organizations as found in the most influential spheres of Indonesian life are detailed below:



Gerakan Pramuka is Indonesia’s scouting organization.  Historically, the Dutch founded a scouting organization in their colony the Dutch East Indies in 1912.  After the Indonesian revolution, Indonesia joined the world organization of scouting in 1953.  With over eight million members, Gerakan Pramuka today is the world’s largest scouting organization. 

Indonesian scouting is broken down into several different troops called SAKA (Satuan Karya Pramuka).  SAKA troops serve youth ages 14-25.  The seven SAKA troops and their specialties are:


Most of the SAKA are supported by related government agencies.  For example, Saka Bahari works in coordination with the navy; Saka Bhayangkara coordinates with the police and fire departments as well as search and rescue services. 

In this way, scouting provides early access into the skills necessary to establish a professional life as found in the government and military.  These agencies often take responsibility for youth training within each SAKA.  The Ministry of Health trains the members of scouting’s health services (Saka Bhakti Husada) in the areas of disease prevention and basic medicine for example. Scouting also serves the community and family life as well as food production.  

Indonesian National Youth Council

The Indonesian National Youth Council, or DPP KNPI (Komite Nasional Pemuda Indonesia), is along with scouting one of the largest youth groups in Indonesia.  The KNPI has organized chapters in all of Indonesia’s sub-districts (kecamatan), and even down to the village level in many cases.  Primarily serving as a group that develops leadership, the KNPI are advocates promoting democratic values, volunteerism, and humanitarian outreach.  They develop educational programs for youth that work to fight the social scourges of drugs, AIDS, and terrorism.

The Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports helps fund the KNPI.  In fact, three-quarters of Indonesia’s parliament and ministry heads are current or former members of KNPI.  Interestingly, the age range for this youth organization is 18 to 40, with a majority of the members being between the ages of 25-35. 


Islamic Youth Movement & Pesantrens

The two largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia are the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and Muhammadiyah. Combined their membership is around eighty million Indonesians, and include all ages and walks of life. 

Over the last several hundred years Islam has been disseminated throughout Indonesia not so much by force and coercion, but through education.  Both NU and Muhammadiyah follow in that tradition and have established many pesantren (Muslim schools) and functioning organizations as operated out of community mosques.

Muhammadiyah believes that achieving a civil society is best done through a religious mass movement that professes an ethos of moderation (wasatiyah- the middle path).  With a membership of thirty million, Muhhammadiyah’s reputation for moderation is one good reason why Indonesia is considered religiously moderate.

Muhammadiyah Students Association (HDI) is Muhammadiyah’s central youth organization. Its mission and vision are mostly religious in nature.  Their agenda serves to safeguard Islam’s purity and to promote those sacred values through education.  Muhammadiyah devotes itself to social and educational activities and has helped build and establish many Islamic schools (pesantren) and mosques.  Most of the pesantren, serve both boys and girls and the primary and secondary levels. Since their inception in 1912, Muhammadiyah has also founded over twenty-five major universities all over Indonesia. Though they are not a political party, they seek to influence Indonesian politics through moral persuasion.

Muhammadiyah train Islamic youth to better understand Islam and carry out its mission.  They sponsor all manner of youth activities, including sports, leadership and community service, and education, all with a religious basis.

Muhammadiyah is supported by several youth organizations that function autonomously but are affiliated:


Organized Sports

Football (Futbol)


The Football Association of Indonesia:  PSSI (Persatuan Sepak bola Seluruh Indonesia)

Football, or soccer, commands a large, passionate following in Indonesia.  The PSSI is the country’s major football organization.  On the professional level it fields the national team as well as competitive leagues.  It also recruits young players for youth leagues.
With an eye towards developing professional quality players, the PSSI organizes national youth teams and leagues for ages under twenty-three, under twenty-one, under nineteen, and under sixteen. The Ministry of Youth and Sports devotes a considerable amount of its budget to supporting the national team as well as youth leagues.

Badminton (Bulutangkis)

Badminton, or bulutangkis, is considered by many to be Indonesia’s national sport.  In Asian games, Indonesia usually places very high in competition for both men and women.  Like football, Tim Bulutangkis (pro badminton team) as well as amateur badminton is supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and is taught to children formally and informally across Indonesia.


School Vacations

Listed below are holidays enjoyed by students across Indonesia for the year 2010.  To expand on this, most Indonesian students are given at least two lengthy breaks- three weeks following the end of the school year in June and July; and three weeks spanning Christmas through the first week after New Year.   Many areas release Muslim students from school part or all of Ramadan as well.

Public Holidays 2010

1 Januari (Jumat)                                 Tahun Baru Masehi                                              Christian Calendar New Year
14 Februari (Minggu)                          Tahun Baru Imlek 2561                                       Chinese Calendar New Year
26 Februari (Jumat)                             Maulid Nabi Muhammad SAW                          Birth of the Prophet Mohammed
16 Maret (Selasa)                                Hari raya Nyepi tahun Baru Saka 1932          Nyepi- Hindu Balinese day of silence
2 April (Jumat)                                      Wafat Yesus Kristus                                             Easter (death of Christ)
13 Mei (Kamis)                                      Kenaikan Yesus Kristus                                        Resurrection of Christ
28 Mei (Jumat)                                     Hari Raya Waisak tahun 2554                           Buddhist Vesak Day Celebration
10 Juli (Sabtu)                                       Isra Mi’raj Nabi Muhammad SAW              Ascension of the Prophet Mohammed
17 Agustus (Selasa)                              Hari Kemerdekaan RI                                      Indonesian Independence Day
10-11 September (Jumat-Sabtu)       Idul Fitri 1 Syawal 1431 H                                 Idul Fitri- end of Ramadan
17 November (Rabu)                            Idul Adha 1431 H                                             Muslim Festival of Sacrifice
7 Desember (Selasa)                              Tahun Baru 1432 H                                         Muslim Calendar New Year
25 Desember (Sabtu)                              Hari Raya Natal                                                   Christmas
Universal Holidays 2010
9 September (Kamis) Cuti Bersama             Idul Fitri
13 September (Senin) Cuti Bersama           Idul Fitri
24 Desember (Jumat) Cuti Bersama         hari Raya Natal


Extra-curricular Study Opportunities during Vacation

Indonesia middle and high schools students enjoy no tradition of access to so-called summer internships and special extra-curricular study programs as found in more developed countries.  Only the rich can afford such offerings as found overseas in countries such as Singapore and Australia.


It is very common to see Indonesian teenagers driving motor bikes, but rarely do they drive cars.  There is simply one reason for that:  cars are very expensive and not affordable for most young people.

More and more Indonesian youth acquire driving licenses every year.  This includes females as well as males.  With cheap credit plans and low monthly payments of around 30 USD,  an increasing number of young people can afford to buy motor bikes.  The driving age in Indonesia is 17, but many teenagers learn to drive long before that.  This is especially true in rural areas. It is a common sight to see youngsters the age of twelve or even less driving motor bikes around their small village as it is considered safe by their parents.  The police look the other way as this is simply the culture of village life and how young people learn to handle a motorized vehicle.

For a young, first time driver, getting a driving license in Indonesia is simple and easy.  Very few teenagers going for their license have a problem passing either the written or manual practice test.  These tests are designed for easy passage. 

Very few motor bike riders carry insurance unless they own a particularly expensive machine.  Read more about this topic in related posts as found in AngloINFO’s general section on Indonesia.

Youth Employment

Indonesia’s most current labor laws as regards the young are found in Undang Undang No.13, 2003 Ketenagakerjaan (Labor Laws of 2003).  In general, employers are forbidden to employee minors, that being defined as those under18 years of age.  That provision can be excluded for children as young as 13 if hired to perform “light work” as long as the development of their physical, mental, and social health is not compromised.  This latter class of under aged workers must seek written permission from parents or guardians followed by an agreement with the employer.  The child can work at most a three hour shift, and must be given a work schedule that doesn’t interfere with school time. 

Given proper supervision, children as young as 14 can accept work as assigned by an education or training curriculum. This is commonly found in the context of vocational high schools field studies.  Each vocational program requires an internship as part of the field of study.  Sometimes the internship requires travel far away from home for up to two or three months.

As the Indonesian population continues to boom, youth employment is a growing challenge for the country.  The minimum work age of 18 makes sense according to established child labor practices as reflects the nominal age of graduation from secondary school.  The problem is that fully one-third of Indonesian youth quit schooling after the eighth grade.  In 1994 Indonesia instituted the Nine-Year Compulsory Basic Education Program, which highlighted the considerable number of children whose education ended after primary school (grade 6). The number of those finishing nine years of education has steadily improved, but graduation rates for high school remain a problem.  This is especially true given the familiar urban-rural gap that characterizes so many aspects of Indonesian life.  One-half of all rural children still do not graduate from middle school.

In 2003 Indonesia’s employment rate was around 90%. Of those employed, 77% hadn’t graduated from high school while the highly educated workers- i.e. those with a senior high school degree and above- amounted to 23%. This spells problems for teenage youth who have dropped out of school.  Very few steady job opportunities exist.  This is especially true in the inner city.  In the rural areas, chances are school drop outs will be put to work by their families in agricultural capacities.

Exploitation of child labor is not the problem in Indonesia to the degree found in countries like Cambodia and India, but it certainly exists.  As depicted in the recent movie Slum Dog Millionaires, very young children as well as those approaching the teenage years are exploited by mafia groups and forced to beg for a living in the streets of Jakarta for instance.  Some children are sold into various forms of slavery by their parents simply because feeding and clothing them isn’t affordable.

The culture of informal work- usually part-time and pick-up in variety- is widespread across Indonesia.  This exists for both children and adults who find odd employment working for family, friends or neighbors.  Much of this work is task-oriented, and often requires very little time and effort.  For example, people routinely pay someone to go to the traditional market to buy some vegetables for them. Many, many people- both children and adults- survive through this system of employment.  It is especially prevalent in the rural communities, and helps to undermine the unemployment figures that better measure the formal economy.


Youth and Substance Abuse


Of all toxic drugs or illegal substances available to Indonesian youth, the biggest problem has to do with the free availability and low cost of tobacco.  Smoking tobacco has a long history in Indonesia, and the tobacco industry is very big business, employing thousands of people in factories and on the farm.  Indonesia is home to the clove cigarette, and makes the world’s highest quality.  There is considerable conflict of interest as found between public health advocacy and Big Tobacco.  Tobacco products enjoy low government taxation and are amongst the cheapest to be found in the world.

Nearly two-thirds of all adult men in Indonesia are smokers, and use of tobacco by children is clearly on the rise.  The female smoking populations- both adult and juvenile- are on the rise as well. Just recently laws banning smoking in public places such as on a bus were passed, but they are routinely unenforced.  Smoking seems a fixture of Indonesian life.

Alcohol and Illegal Drugs

Since the rise of popular and youth cultures in the West after World War II, alcohol and illegal drug abuse have not been the problems in Indonesia as reputed in many countries.  Times have caught up with Indonesia as coincided with the fall of Suharto in 1998.   The rise of western influence and a growing economy have fueled drug smuggling and general drug availability.

Indonesian drug laws are draconian.  Possession of small amounts of almost any illegal drug can translate into several years in prison.  Selling drugs will often bring the death penalty.  Indonesia is not reticent to punish foreigners as well, and has executed several in the past few years.

The deterrence as associated with stiff penalties has seemed to keep drug use at bay for decades, but in the last decade, drug use is on the rise. Even intravenous drug users (IDU’s) now have their own organization and lobby for their own human rights and health services from the government.  As tied to the greater problem of HIV/AIDS, NGO’s like JANGKAR (Jaringan Aksi Nasional Penguran Dampak Buruk Narkoba Suntik) have organized dozens of centers across Indonesia who work with both drug users and local government in order to serve the health and humanitarian crisis surrounding the life style associated with drug addiction and HIV/AIDS.

Though the casual home use of ganja is but a fraction as that found in most western countries, and the use of club drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine is relatively small if compared with the far-end of the spectrum as found in countries such as the United States, drug use and drug smuggling are growing problems for authorities in Indonesia.  Drug use, prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases, and high school dropout rates are all related.  Once let out onto the streets, and with no job to support, there is every temptation for many teens to get involved.  This is especially true in Indonesia’s largest metropoles: Jakarta and Surabaya.

The story surrounding alcohol is a much different one in Indonesia.  Even though the country is predominantly Muslim, the pre-Islamic traditions concerning alcohol haven’t been uniformly tossed aside. Centuries before the arrival of Islam and Christianity homemade liquors such as arak and tuak have been enjoyed across the archipelago. As distilled from fermented rice or the sugary sap of palm trees, these spirits are part of the greater culture and cuisine. The traditions of alcohol use are factored into the relatively newer arrival of foreign religions.

Having said that, alcohol abstinence in Indonesia has been reported to be in the neighborhood of 90%.  This correlates positively and mirrors the percentage of the population that is Muslim.  There are many Indonesian Muslims who do occasionally drink, though, and often do so without being ostracized by family and community.  But the occurrence of alcohol abuse such as alcoholism is very low in the Muslim community. 

Some twenty-five to thirty million Indonesians are Christian, and their communities certainly use alcohol much more frequently than do Muslims.  This is especially true in remote areas which are predominantly Christian.  Some islands have more of a tradition of alcohol use than do others.  The youth living on these islands- especially the young males- will be subjected to significant peer pressure.  Drinking and driving is a particular problem, and alcoholism is not uncommon.  The side-effects as suffered by the family- such as domestic violence- is problematic as well.

The minimum age for drinking on premise in Indonesia is 21; for drinking off-premise is also 21.  In practice, though, if a teenager wanted to buy alcohol- especially in a rural area where it’s manufactured- these ages create no barrier to access.

Where there is homemade brew- or moonshine- it will be cheap, affordable, and accessible to just about everyone.  It is not illegal to make hard alcohols.  In the remote Spice Islands of North Sulawesi Province and the Malukus, for instance, it is ubiquitous. As packaged by the pint in recycled water bottles, it is routinely sold in roadside huts or out of the back of someone’s house.  The greatest potential danger in this unregulated system is that too often the brew is distilled improperly or spiked with wood alcohol hence becoming poisonous.  There are many reported deaths in Indonesia from poisoned alcohol every year- including those of unsuspecting foreigners.  Poisoned alcohols easily make their way into tourist areas including those of Bali and Lombok.

In such small island settings, it is not uncommon to see inebriated young males gathered together on small downtown sidewalks, unemployed and out of school.


Teenage Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy is a taboo subject in Indonesia.  In many cases, religious intolerance and cultural pressures have kept the issue under wraps and off limits.  This has left many teenagers bereft of education and ignorant of how to approach their sexual development in an informed, safe and enlightened way. Though higher government educational departments have developed programs to teach teenagers about safe sex, local school curriculums often shun them as protested by both parent and religious groups. 

This has tragic consequences for many pregnant teenage girls.  Though schools are forbidden by law to discriminate against pregnant students, in practice most expectant mothers are expelled.  Educational offices sometimes offer medical examinations for students who need pregnancy health checks, but many families can’t afford the relatively expensive fee required.

NGO’s have made an attempt to educate teenagers on the subject of sexuality.  The Center for Information on Reproductive Health and Gender (PIKIR) is one such group as operates in Northern Sumatera.  They offer sex education courses to both senior high students and teachers alike.   PIKIR’s outreach has been well-received.  Within two years of their founding in 2000, they had already taught over 5,000 students in the Medan area about reproductive health, women’s rights, and sexually transmitted diseases.  They produce radio shows and provide private counseling, too.

Other NGO’s who have contributed like services are: the Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI), and YPI (Pelita Ilmu Foundation), which fights HIV/AIDS. 

Despite the provincial pressures, the Indonesian government has taken some initiative.  In 2003 the Health Ministry instituted the Adolescent Friendly Health Service (AFHS) as served teenagers through local state funded clinics.  Their 1,600 centers make for great improvement, but mainly reach only urban teens and serve only 20% of the teenagers in need.

Due to the stigma, information concerning teenage pregnancy rates, illegal abortions, and rates of pre-marital sex is unreliable. The extent to which there are significant or growing problems in the areas of reproductive health and out-of-marriage pregnancies is unclear. 

Presently, there are three chosen alternatives: marriage, handing the child over to an orphanage, and abortion.  Though illegal, there are two million abortions performed in Indonesia every years, and 30% of the women unmarried teens.