Illustration: Darth Vader (CC0)
Illustration: Darth Vader (CC0)
Child Stars or Workers?
Behind the charm of a child star on the screen, child actors works in a bad environment. Child Protection is abandoned on the pretext of professionalism.
Child Stars or Workers?
Behind the charm of a child star on the screen, child actors works in a bad environment. Child Protection is abandoned on the pretext of professionalism.

Child labour is not a new problem in Indonesia. However, children in the media industry – especially in the television – are rarely seen as a serious social issue. The term child labour is more often used in issues like underage factory workers, underage domestic workers, child prostitution, street children, children working in offshore communities, mining industries, etc. The Child Protection Law itself considers the sexual exploitation of children a more pressing issue than economic ones.  

This view is confirmed by the statement of Rita Pranawati, a commissioner of the National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI), in an interview with the writer. Pranawati stated that sexual exploitation of children is a much more pressing issue than economic exploitation – especially in the context of childhood development.  Concerns on economic exploitation of children, when seen as an important issue, usually revolve around child trafficking issues, as written in KPAIs Yearly Work Report of 2012.

However, problems of children's rights were apparent when I was researching the production process of sinetron (soap opera) “Raden Kian Santang” (RKS) on 2014. The sinetron, which consistently ranked in the top ten of AGB Nielsen’s rating, involved more than ten children as the main casts. The sinetron was being broadcast on a daily basis, resulting in a tightly scheduled production. Often the production of an episode is done just a day before it went on air. In Indonesia, these kinds of strip programmed television show often rule the ratings. This results in an exploitation of human working forces in an unhealthy and inhumane production process.

Professional Children

The working environment of the child “stars” was often not child-friendly since they would need to heavily interact with adults. The children practically have no designated recreation or resting place.  Their parents tend to rely on electronic gadgets to fill their children’s free time.

The working location is always noisy. When they are not shooting pictures, almost everybody talks when they work. The workspace is dominated by adults and adult language. Various Indonesian profanities and curses are being casually thrown around.

When they were being interviewed, some of the children spouted out some of these profanities – not necessarily cursing the interviewer or other people, but out of a habit. Apparently, they see this behavior as normal and acceptable.

Not only the communication and language of the workspace that is problematic, a manager of one of the child workers once told me that smoking is a common habit. He even indicated the use of some drugs, like cocaine and marijuana, in the shooting location. As he said, “Yes, they use ganja, cocaine – you know cocaine, right? Cigarettes are common.”

Other than drugs and tobacco, there are also sexually explicit behaviors exhibited in the workplace.  One of the parents of the child workers told me, once when she was accompanying her child in the shooting location, she witnessed an actress mimicking the movements of a sexual intercourse.

The actress playing the role of my son’s mother, sat beside me, on the lap of a man. Then, she did this (mimicking sexual intercourse). The man felt uncomfortable, so he went away. Of course, a woman doing “that” to you, how could you not get “erect?”

Not only that they are enveloped by an adult social environment, child workers are eventually being treated the same way as their adult counterparts. They bear the responsibility and demand of a professional. This fact is emphasized by the director of the sinetron, Iyon Priyoko, “Whenever we need to shoot (pictures), they have to be ready.”

One of the child workers’ parents constantly preached about work ethics and responsibility towards the child.

 So I said this. “When Adek (literally little sibling, a common affectionate nickname) is acting, Adek is working. So when you get a call, you have to be serious, don’t jest around. When it is time to work, you work. Don’t play around. So the crew would like you. And When it is not the time to act, there are times you have to sleep, so you have to sleep. When someone wakes you up, you have to wake up. Don’t grumble.” “Yes Mama,” (Adek answered). Alhamdulillah his mind is kinda mature, even though he’s just eight, second grade of elementary school.

In its production, RKS employed children for more than three hours a day. Their working hours even goes past midnight for seven days a week. Indonesian Labour Laws clearly states that only children of 13 years old are allowed to work, the working hours should not exceed 3 hours per day, and can only be done between 06.00-18.00, outside of school hours (article 69). These working hours practiced by the production house is an irrefutable violation of the law.

While adult workers could go home and rest during the say, the children would still have to go to school. Therefore, several child actors resorts to homeschooling as their choice of education. Several other chose to practically drop out of school. One of the actors cannot even transfer to Jakarta, the place of the production, because his school in Makassar decided that his enrollment would “improve the prestige of the school”. Consequently, he is only active at his school for periodic tests, without adequate education.

Most of the parents attending their children are fathers claiming to be entrepreneurs, so they could accompany their children at work. Some of them even admitted that they intentionally left their old, steady jobs. These parents tend to refuse using the term “workers” for their children. For them, their children are just “channeling their talents and aspirations”, without any coercion. Children working in the television industry are never actually seen as a working labour; instead, they are “stars” – at least according to the hegemonic view constructed by all the stakeholders, including the state. As a logical consequence, the protection of the children’s rights and child workers’ rights are being neglected. Even worse, the “star” image of child workers serves as a handy justification for the television industry to exploit them in the heavy and unforgiving working rhythm.

Judhariksawan, chief of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), reaffirmed this view further. In an interview with the writer, Judha insisted that there are incorrect perspectives and prejudices from some people outside of the industry. Judha explained that KPI once held a focus group discussion (FGD) on child artist’s exploitation. The conclusion of the FGD is that the child workers don’t usually feel disturbed or exploited and their parents refuse to be accused of exploiting their children. In his opinion, only the people outside of the industry would see it as exploitation.

This view is ironic: Why should children, who are just “channeling their talents and aspirations,” be exposed to the heavy rhythm and expectation of professional media work?

A No Man’s Land

In developed countries, like the United States, the employment of underage workforce is always heavily regulated with child protection laws. As stated on the website of United States Department of Labor, out of 50 states, 36 states enforce their own regulation on child entertainment and in more than half of them a work permit is required to employ children in an entertainment industry.

“…any organization, or individual, using the services of any minor in: motion pictures of any type (film, videotape, etc.), using any format (theatrical, film, commercial documentary, television program, etc.), by any medium (theater, television, videocassette, etc.); photography; recording; modeling; theatrical productions; publicity; rodeos; circuses; musical performances; and any other performances; and any other performances where minors perform to entertain the public.”

(Child Labor Laws, State of California, 2013, hal. 36)

The state of California has its own Child Labor Law issued by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, Department of Industrial Relations at 2013. In its ten pages, various regulations on children’s rights in the entertainment industry are written in detail. The rules include the necessity of a work permit and the prohibition of employing children in school hours. The state also regulates the work hours and facilities provided by the employing corporation. Those various rules in the United States demonstrated the commitment of the state to protecting children’s rights in the entertainment industry.

The same cannot be said about Indonesia.

Indonesia does have some regulations on creative and media industries, but none of these regulations are specifically about child protection. It appears that the protection of child labour in the media industry is not yet seen as a priority by Indonesian policy makers.

In the 71st article of the Labour Law of 2003, in order to develop their talents and interests, children are allowed to work as long as they comply with some regulations. They are required to work under their parents’ supervision, to work for less than three hours, and to be in a child-friendly environment. The children allowed to work, if the law is to be consistent with the previous article, should at least be 14 years old. These rules are rarely obeyed, and there is no specific regulation on child workers in the entertainment industry.

 Labour protection in the film industry is regulated in the 20th article of the Motion Picture Law. The 5th clause of the article specifically mentioned that the underage film workers should have their rights as children protected as stated by the relevant laws. In the explanation of the law, it is stated that the rights of underage film workers include “the protection and fulfillment of the right to have an education and the right to play.” Unfortunately, there are no other ministerial decrees under this Law which technically elaborate the actual enforcement of said rights. In this Law, there are also no further elaborations on any possible sanction or punishment for the violation of children's rights in the production process of a film.

The Broadcasting Law of 2002 doesn’t even include any article on child worker protection in the broadcasting industry.  The Law only stated about the protection of underage audience from dangerous contents in the media. The only article about children is the 46th article on commercials involving children. The regulation concerning child protection can only be found in the Broadcasting Code of Conduct and Program Standards (P3SPS), which is a guideline for broadcasting industries issued by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI). It is stated in the tenth chapter on Child Protection, in the second clause of the 14th article that “the broadcasting institution is obligated to look after the children’s interest in every aspect of the broadcasting production.” So far, the KPI is yet to make any meaningful step in enforcing this rule.

The regulation is unclear, but there are also issues with the authorities. Who is actually responsible for protecting children in the media industry?

 First, there is the National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI). Yet as explained at the beginning of the article, that institution is more focused on dealing with the sexual exploitation of children.

On the second order, it also makes sense to put child labour in the entertainment industry under the context of the creative industry. In Jokowi’s administration, creative industry is regulated by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf). Yet the Bekraf itself have no clear vision on how to protect children working in the creative fields.

On the third order, there is the Ministry of Communication and Information (Kominfo). The Ministry itself has no specific department responsible for the production process of the media industry. Henry Subiakto,the Ministry’s Expert Staff on Communication and Mass Media, explained that industrial relations, especially labour matters, are not regulated in the Law or Ministerial Decree on the media. Moreover, he affirmed that the production process of media content prior to the broadcast is outside of Kominfo’s sphere of administration.

On the fourth order, is the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI). Even so, Judhariksawan stated since the beginning that the production process of television content is outside of KPI’s authority. Therefore alone child labour and child protection is not its juridicton. KPI, as mandated by the Law, is only responsible for overseeing the actual broadcast content. 

By mapping the state’s commitment to child protection, especially in the media industry, it is clear that the state tends to ignore the child labour exploitation issues in the media industry. This abandonment results in the preservation of the status quo profiting the industry while prolonging the exploitation. []

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Lintang Ratri

A lecturer of Communication Studies in Diponegoro University. A member of National Coalition to Reform Broadcasting Industry. Interested in media, gender, and children issues.