“My Parents”: Who Are They?

By: Irwanto

Professor of Psychology, Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, Jakarta; Senior advisor of the Center for HIV-AIDS Research Atma Jaya Catholic University; Co-director, Center on Child Protection, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia.

Neither a child nor parent can biologically choose who their predecessor or offspring will be. Such a situation makes us think, on what basis is the relationship of children and parent arranged so that each qualifies as a “child” and as “parent”. Biological relationships are regarded as a major criterion in the relationship between children and parents. Particularly when interpreted that the biological relationship (sexual copulation) is accompanied with the intention or desire to realize human rights an obligation to continue the process of procreation, so that humans as a species do not disappear from the face of the earth.

Nevertheless, the biological relationship between the child and parent becomes problematic if the birth was unplanned or unwanted.  This could be due to the negligence of both partners to manage the pregnancy, or because of the coercion or violence experienced during copulation. Is a man who has raped a woman, automatically the father of a child born out of this kind of horrendous situation? What about the status of women who keep their pregnancy because “they were forced to”, can she be called the mother of her child?  If the relationship between a child and a parent were merely biological, then there would be many children bearing the brunt of forced pregnancies, rapes and children born out of sexual exploitation, were the biological parents did not plan for or want the child.

To be a child’s parent, one must meet several criteria that support the survival and development of the child. Biological relationships do not necessarily guarantee it. In such cases, the criterion is more of a social and moral nature. Being a parent requires a sense of responsibility towards a child and commitment to these responsibilities. That responsibility comes in many forms. Giving love, protection and even sacrifice for a child, ensuring the child obtains the best food, clothing and boarding, ensuring the child can learn formally and informally, making sure the child’s opinion is appreciated and that they are given the opportunity to be independent. The moral basis for such responsibility can be taken from belief systems or religion, which suggests that a child is entrusted from the Almighty Creator, or based on morality that doing good to a fellow human being will create a better world for mankind.

However, not all parents are able to appreciate and implement the commitment of this responsibility consistently. Many parents change in time, due to external or internal factors, and or, personal reasons. This increasingly dynamic world can easily throw a peaceful community into chaos and scatter families overnight. The continuing unstable political-economic environment in Indonesia could trigger interpersonal or communal conflicts with bad consequences for the family unit. Therefore, it would be beneficial that a safety net is in place, a system that is set by the State to mitigate the damaging effects of situations that can strain or even cause family unit to collapse.

In the concept of safety net, the State is then present as “Parent” or Parens Patriae(parents for the country). The term is widely used in English Common Law whose meaning is, “the State acts as the protector and caretaker for citizens who cannot meet their own needs or protect him or herself”. The State is present not only as an institution, but also as an aggregation of embodiment of every citizen’s moral responsibility against another citizen. In Indonesia, this principle is set forth in Article 34 of the 1945 Constitution.

Why must the principle of Parens Patriae be expressed in public discourse? This is because citizens of the state uphold the responsibility to manage their resources fairly and inclusively of all who reside within the state. Living together equally cannot be realized when there are still citizens neglected, marginalized and forgotten, amongst those who live excessive or abundant lives. This fact is used as the basis of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If we want to live together under the same sky, then there should be no human left behind in enjoying the fruits of development. The SDGs, has stated within any of the goals put fourth, not one goal can be achieved if there is one man forgotten. Therefore, in this global agreement the commitment of the government to achieve these goals are strengthened, as well as human rights laws, policies and procedures.

What is the purpose of this article?

To remind every parent that their responsibilities to children are important. But the duties and responsibilities of child protection activists is not only limited to that. We must realize that not all parents can take on responsibilities and commitment for their children. The bigger responsibility is to fight for social justice by ensuring that the State is present as “parents” of children in all regions of this country, indiscriminately. Thus, no child would be left behind in enjoying their rights of life and growth in this beautiful archipelago.

Bintaro, February 12, 2017.
Written for the launch of 2017 Campaign 
“MY FAMILY MY PROTECTOR” by Yayasan Komunitas Sahabat Anak Jakarta  
On Sahabat Anak Day, February 17, 2017


Free interpretation ofdefinitionsdownloadedfromLegalInformationInstitute(LII), Cornell University – https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/parens_patriae

About Sahabat Anak

Sahabat Anak is a non-profit organisation that provides quality education and children’s rights advocacy in an effort to encourage and inspire Jakarta’s street children to escape urban poverty. The movement began in 1997 after a group of university students made a commitment to make a difference in the lives of Indonesia's street children. As a volunteer-based organisation, Sahabat Anak aims to involve as many members of the community as possible to help improve the lives of street children.

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