Child workers, Denpasar Market

Written by on June 15, 2012 in Bali Environment with 0 Comments

Child workers, Denpasar Market


risha Sertori, Contributor, Denpasar | Thu, 02/16/2012

For the past few years, Wayan Nila has been hefting a heavily loaded basket onto her head and ferrying vegetables, fruits and meat to customers’ waiting cars.

This diminutive porter is tough and wiry, much like her friends Pitri Pitasari and Nyoman as they weave the aisles of Denpasar’s Badung Market searching for customers to make enough rupiah to eat and hopefully send some money home.

These are the child workers of Badung Market; the youngest working there recently was 12-year-old Nyoman, who does not yet know how to spell her own name. The legal age to work in Bali is 17 according to the Social Welfare Agency.

“I started working here about a year ago. I like this work because I can help my parents. I have no boss and no one tries to take my money,” says Nyoman.  

Acting as protector and friend to the 12-year-old is an old hand at the porter game, 17-year-old Nengah, who started working as a market porter when she was just ten years of age. She explains only girls and women are porters at the market.

Respite: Some of the porters at Badung Market rest together with friends. There is a school on Fridays and Saturdays at the market for the hardworking young porters.“Only girls carry the baskets, boys are not allowed to do this,” says the striking looking Nengah, adding that it was through working at the market that she learned to read.

“I started here when I was ten because there was no other work available – I come from Karangasem, like most of the girls here. At the market we have a school on Fridays and Saturdays so I learned to read here at the market. We’ve had this school for a long time,” says Nengah, who has dreams of one day opening her own stall at the market.

She adds that heading to work at the market as a ten-year-old was her best shot at getting any education at all. “My family could not afford to send me to school in my village – we have no money.”

These market porters say they have dreams of working in other fields, but the manifestation of these dreams seems unlikely.

“My dream is to one day have a shop so I can sell things,” says Nengah, while little Nyoman dreams of cooking food to sell. “I can cook, my Mum taught me to cook so I could sell food. I don’t yet have the money to start.”

Working for a living: A child hefts a load of items larger than herself.Pitri’s dreams are harder to achieve, while she is now learning to read and write at the twice weekly market school, her dream of becoming a doctor seems a dream too far for this market porter.

Most of these girls hail from small, impoverished villages in Karangasem in Bali’s dry northeastern region. They have created their own family structures, watching out for each other while getting competitive when it comes to customers.

Nyoman’s family is still in her village, waiting each month for the few rupiah she can send home. “I live in a boarding house in Ubung with Sari, she is from my village, so I am not alone,” says this tiny 12- year-old whose basket is almost larger than she is.

Her boarding house friend, 15-year-old Sari, has been working at the market for several years. Being born into a family of six girls left her little option but to head to the city when she should have been going to school.

“Nyoman stays with me so she is safe. We take the bus each morning at 5 a.m. and we work here until the evening. I didn’t ever go to school, because my family couldn’t pay. My older sister is married, so she has gone away.

“I have one sister at school in our village, so there is only me to earn money for our family. Dad is in the village and Mum finds glass and wood to sell. We have one cow and I go home once a month. I take money for Nyoman’s family with me,” says Sari.

She adds that she loves her work, and the market school offers her an education she would otherwise have no access to.

“It’s better I work here than being back in my village. I like the work and I can now read. I came here when I was ten and lived with friends from Karangasem – I wasn’t scared leaving home because I had friends here to help,” says Sari, who at 15 has already been financially supporting her family for five years.

Pitri is blunt in her reasons for portering the 12 hour days at the market. “If we don’t work our families are hungry. It’s busy here now with Galungan and Kuningan so we can make good money, US$5 a day is possible if the customers aren’t stingy. Most of the time I earn less than that each day, but it’s really good now,” says Pitri, who, like all the young female porters, sends money home to support her family.

Hefty: A swarm of baskets is carried by underage porters at Badung Market in Bali.It is not only youngsters scratching a living as porters at the Badung Market; for the past 25 years Ibu Yuli has been making ends meet for her family, starting when she was still a child and continuing now as a mother of four.

“I feel sorry for the kids working here, but they are hungry so they need to work. I want to see all these kids able to read and write so they have more choices in their lives, so they can build better futures for themselves. I’ve worked here as a porter for 25 years and I have managed to put all my kids through high school. One is a nurse, the other works in a villa and one is still in school. My work as a porter paid for their education, so I am proud of this. So when I see these kids at the market wanting to learn at the school here it makes me happy and hopeful,” says Ibu Yuli of these market children treading in her footsteps.

“I never want my kids to work here. My dream would be for them to go to school and get good jobs,” says 15-year-old Pitri, determined in her long-term plans for a better future for the next generation.



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