In many parts of rural Indonesia, a lack of basic infrastructure means that many young children have no choice but to make dangerous journeys across rivers every day just to get to school. Those were the circumstances that led to the tragic death of four schoolchildren, aged 5-13, on North Sumatra’s Nias Island on Monday.
The children died while crossing the Borofino River in Balombaruzo Village while making their way back home after school on Monday afternoon. According to authorities, while the river is usually shallow at the point that they were crossing, there was suddenly a heavy flow from upstream that swept the three elementary school students and one junior high school students away.
One other child who was with the group but had not yet entered the river when his classmates were dragged off managed to inform his mother and a search party was quickly formed. Heartbreakingly, all four students were found dead over the following two days.
South Nias Police Chief Faisal Napitupulu said that many children in his district had to cross a lot of rivers to go to school, as many as 2-3 in some cases. He said he hoped that bridges over the rivers could be built soon using village funds or assistance from the central government to ensure no such deaths took place again.
Legislators in the House of Representatives have already spoken out about the tragic deaths, with House Commission X, which oversees matters regarding education, echoing the sentiment that something needs to be done now to prevent such deaths from ever happening again.
“I hope there will be no more school children who are victims, they should be the last,” said Putu Supadma Rudana, a member of Commission X from the Democratic Party, in a written statement to Detik on Wednesday night.
“We will immediately ask the Ministry of Education and Culture to monitor every rural area. If there is no bridge (for children to get to school), the central government must immediately build them. If not, build a bridge over the river using the village funds. These children are the future of the nation, don’t let them lose their lives like this,” Putu wrote.
The legislator also said his commission would question officials from South Nias to understand how this incident took place and how long children had been having to go to school under such dangerous conditions.
A video showing children risking their lives to get to their school in the village of Bonto Matinngi in the regency of Maros, South Sulawesi, went viral earlier this year. Media reports indicated that the local government had plans and a budget allocated to the construction of a bridge for students in Maros since 2015, but construction failed to get off the ground… for some reason. But the viral video showing the student’s plight led to a generous outpouring of donations to crowdfunding site Kitabisa.com, which raised IDR198 million (US$14,275) for the bridge’s construction, work on which is supposedly underway now.