'Tukang Suun' reflects the plight of Balinese child workers

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Anton Muhajir, Contributor, Denpasar | Thu, 10/30/2008 10:33 AM | Surfing Bali

She has not yet reached her 10th birthday, but Ni Wayan Cenik has already had an adult’s burden laid on her shoulders.

The young child works from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and after a brief rest in her cramped house, she will return to work another shift until 8 p.m. On the average, Cenik works nine hours per day.

Her day starts early in the morning. After helping her mother do household chores, Cenik will walk three kilometers to Peken Badung, the largest traditional market on the island.

In the market, she will approach housewives and traders who flock the market, offering her service as a tukang suun.

The term refers to a porter who for a small payment, will assist people by carrying their purchases. Tukang suun usually carry the merchandise in a large bamboo basket placed upon their heads.

On that Thursday morning, Cenik stood in the center of the bustling market. Her body, which is only 140 centimeters (cm) in height, was virtually eclipsed by the bamboo basket she carried on her head. The basket was around 50 cm in diameter.

She approached a housewife who was busy negotiating a price for vegetables with a trader. In a low voice, Cenik asked the housewife whether she needed a tukang suun. The housewife nodded and soon the vegetables were moved into Cenik’s basket.

As the housewife scoured the market looking for other purchases, Cenik silently followed her, ready to take and place everything the housewife purchased into her basket.

Soon the basket was filled with household necessities — spices, fruits, vegetables and fresh fish. Often Cenik will carry the basket on her head for one hour. Sometimes the basket’s weight reaches 50 kilograms.

“Many times the basket hurts my neck,” she said in common Balinese. Cenik could not speak Bahasa Indonesian fluently.

When the housewife finished her shopping, Cenik carried her purchases into the market’s parking lot and helped the housewife unload them into a waiting car.

For her service, Cenik will receive Rp 2,000 (20 US cents).

“On normal days I make around Rp 10,000 per day. On busy days, I can make Rp 20,000 per day,” she said.

When she feels tired, Cenik will take a brief break, sitting with her friends on the concrete stairs that lead to the market’s second floor.

Currently there are around 25 children, all of them girls, who are working as tukang suun in Peken Badung. On a personal level, they maintain good friendships among themselves. On a professional level, they compete fiercely with each other.

For these children, competition comes not only from their peers but also from their seniors since the market also has a large population of adult tukang suun.

Cenik has to compete against her own mother, Ni Wayan Satri, also one of the market’s porters.

Satri and Cenik come from Tianyar village in Kubu sub-district, Karangasem regency. The village on the east side of the island has been known as the place where prolonged drought and chronic poverty are common phenomena.

“I have nothing in the village; that is why I and my family moved to Denpasar to mekuli,” Satri said.

Mekuli is a term commonly used by Balinese for hard labor. It probably was derived from the word coolie.

The family currently lives in the hamlet of Penyaitan, Pemecutan village, in downtown Denpasar.

Satri rents a three-by-three meter room for Rp 200,000 per month. Two adjacent rooms are rented by Satri’s fellow tukang suun.

The room has a cold cement floor which is covered with a plastic mat because the family cannot afford a proper mattress.

The lower part of the room’s walls are made of bricks but the upper part is made of gedek (sheets of woven bamboo strips). In this frugal room, Satri lives with her husband, three children and one infant granddaughter.

It was in this room that the family had dreamed of a better life in the city — a dream that was later shattered by the cold reality which they face daily.

It turned out that the cost of living in a major city such as Denpasar was far higher than the combined income made by the family’s adult members.

Satri works as tukang suun while her husband and son work as tukang parkir (parking attendants). Consequently, Cenik was recruited to work as a child porter in order to boost the family’s income.

While other children her age are busy learning new things in school, Cenik spends her days struggling to make a living for her family.

“We don’t have money to send her to school. We don’t have enough money even to feed the family.

“Often, we don’t have enough money to buy milk for the baby,” Satri added as she held her granddaughter.

On that afternoon, she fed the baby with a bottle of water sweetened with sugar instead of a bottle of warm milk.

“I have never gone to any school,” Cenik said.


  • sherly
    October 30, 2008

    sedih banget yah kenyataan di negara kita 🙁

  • otonk
    February 20, 2009

    ada contack personnya ngak………….aklo ada please kirim ke alamt email ini ….as soon as possible thanks

  • otonk
    February 20, 2009


  • otonk
    February 23, 2009

    mrk itu tiap hari apa hari-hari tertentu aja…bs di kirim lg alamatnya atau kalo ngak kita sama-sama ke sana aja ketemu mrk…….

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