Beggars Belief: Wife at 10, Mother at 13, and Now, a Life on the Streets

By Rian Dewanto
The Bali Times

KUTA ~ Kadek Krisna was waiting at a bridge near the Istana Kuta Galeria shopping center on Tuesday while her children, aged 2 and 7, milled about between motorbikes and cars at the traffic lights nearby, their big, round eyes imploring drivers to part with cash.

Krisna, 20, is new to town; she came to Kuta to beg in January.

“I arrived here three months ago with my husband and two children. I only had Rp50,000 (US$5.42) in my pocket – that was before I spent Rp30,000 on transportation to get here,” she told The Bali Times.

From Banjar Buti in Kubu, Karangasem, the family now lives in a kost, or rented room, in Denpasar that costs them Rp150,000 a month, said Kadek.

“In my building there are about 20 other families begging in different parts of the city, all from Karangasem as well.”

Extreme hardships drove them to Denpasar.

“In our village, we can’t get anything because it’s such a remote area and so far from big towns. It’s up in the mountains; cars can’t drive there because there aren’t any roads.

“If we want to buy something, we have to pay someone to take us by motorbike, and it costs a lot: Rp30,000.”

Kadek said her parents forced her into marriage at the tender age of 10, despite her protestations and likely because they were so poor they wanted her out of the house.

Her husband, then 12, was a relation, she said.

“When I was 10, my father arranged my marriage with someone I didn’t know. I’d never been to school, and when I got married, my husband had just finished elementary school.

“I didn’t like the boy but there was nothing I could do. My parents even took me to the police to force me to get married. The police told me I had to do it, and said if I didn’t go through with it, I’d be fined Rp1.5 million. Three years later my son was born.”

After the marriage, Kadek worked in the fields, growing corn, peanuts and vegetables for the family table.

“It was hard. Often the harvests were poor and there was barely enough to eat, let alone crops to sell. When the weather was bad, there were no harvests at all,” she said.

Given the village’s remoteness, however, there were no opportunities to sell produce when there were bumper harvests, and local families would not buy because they were all growing the same.

And so, a combination of lack of development, failing crops and poverty drove Kadek and her family to Denpasar, in the hope of finding a better life.

Her husband picked up casual work as a building laborer, but the pay was miniscule, and he told Kadek to take to the streets with the children and beg.

“I’m so ashamed to have to beg for a living. I like my old life in the village better – there’s always something to eat at home. Here I don’t always have food,” said Kadek.

“We don’t eat in the mornings. I spend Rp12,000 on nasi bungkus (combination of rice, noodles, chicken) in the afternoons and evening – two for my husband, two for me and my son Wayan. My 2-year-old daughter, Kadek, won’t eat rice; sometimes she just eats bananas.”

Adding to the young mother’s woes is constant harassment by the authorities, who have thrice put her behind bars, she says.

“I always have to be alert, in case local security officials take us off the streets, and since January I’ve been arrested three times and put in a holding cell for two days while the children were taken back to the kost. When they freed me, they took us all back to our village in Karangasem but after a few days we went back to Denpasar,” she said.

“Today I was kicked in the leg by an officer. He told me I was lazy and stupid. They hate people like me because we’re adults and shouldn’t be asking for things, like money from motorists. They never touch the children, though.

“The children do the begging – Wayan carried Kadek on his back – because I’m afraid of the security officials and so ashamed. They get around Rp20,000 a day. On the rare days that I do beg, people tell me I’m too old to be doing it, but they never say that to the children.”

Sitting on the street beside Kadek on Tuesday was Ketut Sari, 19, breastfeeding her 18-month-old son while her 9-year-old boy, Putu Eka, begged from motorists.

“I can’t afford school for my children or milk for my baby. I can only breastfeed him,” she said.

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