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close this bookStrengthening the Family - Implications for International Development (UNU, 1991, 268 p.)
close this folderThe Javanese family
View the documentIntroduction to the Javanese model
View the documentEast Asian relationship to socio-economic development
View the documentAn overview of Java
View the documentConcepts of individual, family, and community
View the documentThe family arrangements
View the documentThe status of women in the javanese family
View the documentThe Javanese value of children
View the documentMarital relationships
View the documentRelationships in the family
View the documentSocial network and family support system
View the documentJavanese concept of life
View the documentTeaching manners and values
View the documentSocial implications of the javanese value system
View the documentChallenges for transition
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences

The Javanese value of children

In Java, large families traditionally have been desirable. Some studies argue that the high value placed on fertility is mainly due to expected economic returns (White 1975; Nag, White, and Peet 1980; Williams 1990) that parents receive in the form of additional labour power and security in old age.

In Javanese peasant families in economically poor villages, very young children are actively involved in housework, care of younger siblings, and some agricultural chores (White 1975). Children's direct contribution to income is limited until about the age of 10 (White 1975). It is very common, especially in poor households, to see children from the age of five or six involved in looking after younger siblings, both before and after school. According to Jay (1969), children are not forced to work. He observed that it is through appreciation and praise of their activity that children's labour is encouraged. Jay explained further:

I observed children to be industrious, even at an early age, in picking up small piecework jobs such as hulling peanuts or sorting and bundling onions for sale ... there was a general notion that whatever a child might earn at such work belonged to the household purse. At lower levels, though, there was a feeling that most children would spend the proceeds on snacks for themselves and their age mates, and overt praise was given children who had turned their earnings over to their mothers. (Jay 1969, 69)

Yet higher-class Javanese families, who do not need their children's economic contribution, have more children than peasant families. Koentjaraningrat (1985) noted that having many children is perceived as prestigious; a man can have as many children as he can afford. The number of children a man has also increases his status at work. Javanese in white-collar occupations consider persons with many children higher in status than those with only a few. Also, in social etiquette, those with more children should be addressed in formal terms, even if their age, education, and experience are the same. Consequently, attempts in the early 1970s to introduce family planning were less successful among urban families than among peasants.

Since the introduction of rigorous family planning campaigns, however, the Javanese attitude towards the ideal number of children has begun to change (Koentjaraningrat 1985). Recent findings based on a study of 400 families in East Java (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994), show that almost 90 per cent of couples, in both the urban and the rural areas, no longer agree with the statement, "Having many children can bring luck"; about 55 per cent of both rural and urban couples state that the ideal number of children is one or two. Among the Javanese peasant community, parents are now more future orientated and limit the number of children for the benefit of the children, foregoing the value of additional labour for the family (Koentjaraningrat 1985). A finding based on the Indonesian National Survey in East Java (Megawangi 1991) shows that the total parity of women from the lowest income category did not differ at all from the total parity of those from the highest income category. This attitude change seems to contradict the idea of high economic returns of the children mentioned earlier.

Koentjaraningrat (1957; 1985) and Geertz (1961) describe children as a source of family warmth, joy, and happiness. The Javanese believe that children bring luck and happiness and that if there is warmth in the family there will be calm and peace in the heart. Geertz (1961) wrote, "A woman with many children is envied; a barren woman is pitied." Infertility may become a source of family problems that end in divorce. A childless couple usually adopts a child, usually from relatives either on the husband's or the wife's side.

Many Javanese have children to provide security in old age. There is an expression for this in Javanese (Geertz 1961): "When you are old, your children will care for you. Even if you are very rich, the kind of care your children give you cannot be bought." Children are obligated to care for elderly parents. However, a shift in value of this kind of obligation may have occurred, as the most recent finding shows that only 53 per cent of Javanese parents agree with the statement, "Children can provide security in old age" (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994). Parents traditionally endow their houses in their wills to the youngest child, especially the youngest daughter, who usually remains in the parents' home even after her marriage and is later charged with the obligation to care for elderly parents, living with them until the parents die.

In Javanese society, children of both sexes are equally wanted. Preferential treatment based on gender has never been noted in Indonesia, except for willingness to pay for tuition for higher education for boys, as noted above. A study conducted by Megawangi (1991) in East Java, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Nusa Tenggara Barat (n= 6,796), showed that female children have better nutritional status, as measured by weight for age, than male children. The male infant mortality rate was also 30 per cent higher than for females (CBS 1985). Since preferential treatment does not explain this trend, biology may be implicated. Stini (1983) and Stinson (1985) noted that female children might have a higher survival rate than male children. In addition, the long-term effects of prenatal undernutrition of the mother are more pronounced in males than females.

In our data, parental investment in the child's future, as measured by a modified HOME subscale describing learning and academic stimulation in the home, was significantly associated with taller child stature and the adequacy of nutrient intake. The subscale measured the provision of toys and books, and encouragement to learn the alphabet and numbers, and to read words. The type of behavioural interactions involved in teaching, and providing toys and books, may have been conducive to an investment in the child's nutrient intake and subsequent growth. This relationship of stature to child investment strategies was also seen in a study with slightly younger children living in the same geographical area (Sockalingam et al. 1990) and in the positive deviance literature (Zeitlin, Ghassemi, and Mansour 1990). Super, Herrera, and Mora (1990) also found that a group of Columbian children whose mothers had been tutored in cognitive and social stimulation had increased adequacy of protein and energy intake, as well as a distinct growth advantage over those children whose mothers did not receive tutoring. The learning and academic stimulation factor in our study was associated with characteristics typical of the middle-class Javanese family, and may reflect a more privileged lifestyle where the mother is more educated and is a nonworking housewife intimately involved in child-rearing (Hull 1982; Koentjaraningrat 1985).

The Javanese child is the centre of social attention from the time of conception Koentjaraningrat 1957; 1985). Before the birth, at least one ceremony in the seventh month of pregnancy is held to secure a successful delivery; this is usually a big party of relatives and neighbours. After the child is born, the father and other adult members stay awake every night until the umbilical cord has fallen off. They usually invite relatives, friends, or neighbours to spend the time chatting the whole night. There is an additional ceremony in the night when the umbilical cord has fallen off. This custom, however, has disappeared in urban families (Koentjaraningrat 1985), although other ceremonies are still held, including a naming ceremony usually held on the seventh day after birth; kekah, an offering after the thirty-fifth day that is especially common among Moslems; and selapan, a ceremony marking the thirty-fifth day after birth (Koentjaraningrat 1957).