In a cemetery in East Kalimantan, 13-year-old Arga stands in front of her parents’ graves, dressed in a hazmat suit.
Relatives gathered around the cemetery for her mother’s funeral. Arga’s face is covered, but her voice reveals her grief. He trembles when he recites the call to prayer.
Both of her parents died of COVID-19. They are buried next to each other.
Arga lives in an Islamic boarding school and her parents often sent her packages of homemade food.
But when the packages stopped arriving, Arga began to suspect that something was wrong and he wrote a letter to his mother.
“Are you sick, mom?” Call me when you are well. Please get enough sun, ”he wrote.
“I’m healthy here, don’t worry about me. I have 133,000 rupees [$9] on my bank account, that’s enough for me.
She never had the chance to open the letter.
“His father passed away on Thursday, and he didn’t know because we didn’t tell him. And then on Saturday, her mother died too, ”said Leo Nita, Arga’s aunt.
“No one wanted to tell him. But his older brother insisted that we must.
Arga’s brother, 17, was unable to attend the funeral as he too had tested positive for the virus, but now that he has recovered it is up to him and Arga to prepare a future for themselves and their two younger siblings, ages nine and four.
“Why did my parents leave me so quickly? ”
Around Indonesia, as the COVID-19 health crisis continues, more and more children are facing the trauma and grief of Arga.
Alviano, 10, has just received a new fishing rod as a gift from a friend of his father.
As he threads the rod, he remembers his father.
“I love fishing… I used to go fishing with my dad a lot when he was done working,” he said. “Some fish were as big as his thigh. Sometimes we would go shrimp fishing.
Two weeks ago, her mother died in hospital from COVID-19. She was five months pregnant. The next day, his father also died.
“He said… why did my parents leave me so quickly?” We try to be strong for him, but it’s devastating for us, ”said Margono, Alviano’s uncle.
For two weeks, Alviano also tested positive for COVID-19, and during that time he had to live on his own.
Relatives and family friends slept outside on the porch, so he didn’t feel alone.
“He was looking out the window and seeing us. Many of his friends and family slept outside. So he didn’t feel alone, ”Margono said.
Soon Alviano will move in with his grandparents, who live in Sragen, Java.
“The impact is very worrying”
Children’s rights organizations noted that social workers across the country are reporting an increase in the number of orphaned children.
Dino Satria of Save the Children Indonesia says it’s unclear exactly how many children have lost their parents due to Indonesia’s low COVID-19 testing rates and inadequate data collection.
“We don’t have the exact data but there are cases where the children have no one to support them. They don’t have extended families or anyone who can take care of them, ”he said.
Satria fears for children who lack help because their parents’ deaths have not been reported.
“We urge the government to strengthen support systems at the community level, where we can collect this information because at the moment we do not have this information,” he said.
“In addition, the information is not specific. For example, during COVID, the information we have is that someone has died … we don’t know more about them, whether or not they have had children.
The Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has long required hospitals to record information about their patients’ family members, so that arrangements can be made for their children if necessary.
But as Indonesian hospitals have been pushed to their limits by COVID-19 and home deaths have increased, it is harder to find and support children in need.
“The problem is, the process didn’t go very well. The cases of COVID have increased dramatically. What we have now is only partial data and it is not yet very systematic, ”said Kanya Eka Santi, director of children’s rehabilitation at the social ministry.
Santi said it was even more difficult to find homes for children in need, as many households are struggling economically due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Some people don’t want to accept the child because they can’t afford it, even if it’s their own grandchild,” she said.
“During COVID, the financial situation is even more difficult. Some people even have difficulty feeding themselves, so if they are asked to take a child, it is even more difficult. ”
Santi says sending a child to an orphanage is the last resort.
“When the extended family cannot do it, the next option is foster care, guardianship or adoption,” she said.
“We have more problems when a child has no parents and has nowhere to go.
“I thought she was sleeping”
Aisyah, 10, is one of the children placed in foster care in Tangerang, on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital.
Six months ago, Aisyah’s mother passed away from COVID-19. Her last memories of her mother are her hallucinations and difficulty breathing.
“Shortly after, she stopped. I thought she was sleeping. When I tried to wake her, she didn’t get up, ”Aisyah said.
“At that time, I didn’t know my mother had passed away. ”
Her father died before she was born. After the death of her mother, she moved in with the family of a social worker.
So far, none of Aisyah’s relatives have visited or contacted the family.
“I’m happy to have Aisyah here. I love her, I don’t differentiate her from any of my children. Thank goodness she accepted us and loves us, ”said Riamelda, Aisyah’s adoptive mother.
“I want Aisyah to stay here and make her dreams come true.”
With the help of her foster family, Aisyah began to return to a normal life.
She enjoys playing with the other kids in the neighborhood and listening to the South Korean pop group Blackpink.
“When I was in COVID isolation, yes my schooling was disrupted. But once I got here I went back to school, ”Aisyah said.
Now, she hopes for a future where she can honor her mother’s life.
“I have my dream, I want to make it come true so that my mother can be happy with me. I want to be a doctor. ”