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Structural barriers and governance factors block Indonesian getting identity documents — but there are solutions

Identity documents are important for access to many public and social services in Indonesia. Raisan Al Farisi/Antara Foto

This article is the second of four articles in the series on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Indonesia entitled “Data that Records and Protects All”.

One in four Indonesian families with children under five years old is at risk of being unable to access various basic services because they lack civil registration documents.

Among them is Bunga (not her real name), a 20-year-old mother of a two-year-old in South Sulawesi province – located on the third-most-populated island in Indonesia.

Because she doesn’t have a family card, Bunga and her child might be left off the list of citizens eligible for social aid – either cash or food assistance – which the government provides for economically vulnerable people during a disaster, including the pandemic.

Many would think the solution to Bunga’s problem is simple: she just needs to apply for the documents.

But our research at the Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing, University of Indonesia (PUSKAPA), shows Indonesians without identity documents don’t necessarily lack motivation to apply. Instead, the problem is structural barriers to getting the documents.

Our 2016 research shows those barriers are related to social and economic factors, or to the civil registration process itself.

This article will discuss our findings, related research, and what can be done to overcome these barriers.

What are the barriers to access?

PUSKAPA developed a conceptual framework to understand and identify structural problems within the public service, civil registration included.

We identified three layers of structural barriers that individuals face when dealing with the civil registration service.

The first is when individuals lack access due to poverty, remoteness and immobility.

The second layer is when individuals deal with services that are unresponsive to their special needs or situations.

The last layer is when individuals experience discrimination due to their social identities, such as gender, religion, ethnicity, and so on. A citizen can face multiple barriers.

Vulnerability Framework. PUSKAPA, Author provided

Poverty is still a major factor

Poverty restricts Indonesians’ access to identity documents.

Children from poorer families are less likely to have a birth certificate than children from better-off families.

Indonesia’s 2016 National Socio-Economic Survey (SUSENAS) found the main reason respondents gave (34%) for not having a birth certificate was that they could not afford the cost. Unfortunately, more updated data are not available because the survey no longer asks this question.

Identity documents are issued for free, but in the process Indonesians still have to spend money, such as for transportation, documenting photocopies and stamp duties.

Long distances, lack of public transportation and bad roads make it more difficult for citizens to go to their local civil registration office.

PUSKAPA research in 2016 found people in Petungkriyono district in Pekalongan regency, Central Java province – located on Indonesia’s main and most populated island of Java – need two hours to go to the regency capital. On average they pay Rp 100,000 (about US$7) for a one-way trip.

That is a considerable cost to bear considering Pekalongan’s poor population spends an average per head of Rp 500,000 a month (about US$35).

The cost of that trip would be bigger if we count the potential daily income they lose while getting the documents.

Multidimensional vulnerability, not only poverty

Apart from the barriers of cost and distance, a number of Indonesians face unresponsive services.

The national survey found the second major reason respondents didn’t have birth certificates is because their other documents weren’t yet issued.

In Bunga’s case, she cannot get a birth certificate for her child that states the father’s name because her marriage was not registered.

As an Indonesian Muslim, Bunga needs to go to the religious court to legalise her marriage first. Only then will she be able to get a marriage certificate from the Religious Affairs Office

Now that Bunga’s husband is missing, appealing for marriage legalisation can become more complicated. Alternatively, she can apply for a statutory declaration letter provided that her marriage status is recorded on a family card, which she doesn’t have.

An Indonesian citizen during an electronic identification card application at a civil registry office in Jakarta. ANTARA FOTO/M Risyal Hidayat/wsj.

Another problem is inconsistency between document issuance protocols and practices. The reasons vary, from mistakes made during data input, processing delays or lack of technological infrastructure, to uncertainty about how long it takes to produce documents.

Our study found a shortage of supply of birth certificate print-out seals was most frequently reported by people in North and Central Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara, and Asahan and Langkat in North Sumatra.

Limited capacity at the local civil registration office can cause long queues of applicants. As a result, not all of them can get their documents done on the same day.

These unresponsive services may look like technical problems instead of structural ones. But individuals with limited resources disproportionately bear the consequences.


Lastly, individuals are excluded because of discrimination.

More than mobility difficulties that prevent people with disabilities registering their vital events, stigma made some of them choose to be unregistered.

A number of groups living with special situations are also unable to obtain identity documents.

For example, people who live outside of traditional household settings, like under bridges or on a state-owned plot of land, will find difficulty obtaining ID cards and family cards because the documents require proof of domicile.

Another group is refugees, who are often unregistered because of their impermanent domicile as a result of disaster or social conflict.

The current requirements in Indonesia for obtaining identity documents have the potential to discriminate against minorities who observe local religious and indigenous beliefs outside state-recognised or mainstream religions.

Since 2016, a Constitutional Court decree allows the religion column on identity documents to be filled with “traditional belief”. This means adherents can apply for an ID card without having to opt for one of the six mainstream religions in Indonesia. But it is not as straightforward in practice.

To be recorded, beliefs need to be registered with the Education and Culture Ministry

For their beliefs to be registered, adherents have to form a formal organisation through a process at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry. Not all groups can comply with this requirement.

Efforts to overcome structural barriers

The Indonesian government has made efforts to deal with the structural barriers by providing services closer to citizens and simpler procedures, and by identifying vulnerable groups.

There are various community initiatives to help citizens, especially vulnerable citizens, obtain legal identity documents.

Community organisations in Sukoharjo and Kulon Progo regencies in Central Java, for example, help people with disabilities to register.

But these efforts are still subject to local governments’ and communities’ capacities to overcome structural barriers.

To enhance such capacity, co-operation between the government, non-government organisations and private sectors is needed.

A queue for e-ID card at the civil registration office in Klaten, Central Java. ANTARA FOTO/Aloysius Jarot Nugroho/aww/17.

Efforts to overcome structural barriers require proper planning and resource allocation to efficiently strengthen the civil registration system and solve problems faced by vulnerable groups.

On one side, the civil registration sector needs infrastructure, supporting facilities and adequate capacity. At the same time, policymakers need to identify and remove discriminatory policies.

Finally, the government should use civil registration data to inform and improve basic services such health, education and social protection.

This way, civil registration benefits others and makes investing in more integrated and comprehensive civil registration services at the front line and community level worth it. Eventually, cases like Bunga will no longer exist.

The studies and programs related to this article were conducted in collaboration between PUSKAPA and the Indonesian Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas), with the Australian government’s support through the KOMPAK (Governance for Growth) program. Previous related studies were carried out with support from AIPJ (Indonesia-Australia Partnership for Justice).

This article was originally published in Indonesian

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