Without Money For A Funeral, an Indonesian Father Buried His Stillborn Baby in a Freezer Box

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Without Money For A Funeral, an Indonesian Father Buried His Stillborn Baby in a Freezer Box

The viral news story provided a stark illustration of the gap between the rhetoric of Indonesian politicians and the realities faced by many ordinary people.

Without Money For A Funeral, an Indonesian Father Buried His Stillborn Baby in a Freezer Box
Credit: Depositphotos

A viral story about a bereaved Indonesian father from Ciledug District in the city of Tangerang is a heart-rending tale of poverty in a country that dreams of achieving developed status by 2030.

According to reports, events unfolded thus: on July 2, the man, identified only by the initial S, took his pregnant wife to a local hospital to give birth to their third child. Tragically for the family, who also have two older children aged three and four years old, the baby was stillborn at just eight months gestation, and the mother moved to the intensive care unit of the hospital to recover.

While this in itself was desperate enough, the situation took an even darker turn when the hospital released the body of the baby and S realized that he did not have enough money to pay for a burial.

Unsure of what to do, authorities said, he took the baby home and placed it in a freezer box, apparently saying prayers for the child as he did so.

“Because he saw the corpse being taken out of the freezer at the hospital, he put the body in the freezer at home from 8 p.m.,” Ciledug Police Chief Dorisha Suryo said of the inspiration behind the act.

“According to his statement, S did not have any money and no family in Ciledug,” he continued.

Once the story, originally presented by some as a sordid tale of parental neglect and lack of care for the deceased, went viral, the backlash was swift with questions asked about how such an event could have occurred.

The answer, it appears, lies in a tangled web of poverty, bureaucracy, and misfortune, the confluence of which led to the baby’s father taking such drastic action to preserve the body of his child.

To add to the family’s woes, it appears that they did not have national health insurance, which is part of a universal healthcare scheme launched in Indonesia in 2014 for citizens who are unable to afford private health insurance but who also do not qualify for full government aid.

Since its inception, the scheme has been criticized for being difficult to use and for not covering or fully covering patients. In this case, it would seem that the family had had difficulty registering for the scheme due to issues with documents and the status of the parent’s marriage as they had wed in a religious ceremony but had not registered the marriage through civil channels. Media reports said that they are now receiving assistance to get their documents in order and apply for an insurance plan, although too late to prevent the original issue with the burial of their baby.

The outpouring of support for the family online has also highlighted issues with extreme poverty in Indonesia, with social media users asking how anyone should be forced into such an inhumane situation due to lack of funds.

In January this year, data from the Indonesian Bureau of Statistics found that 26.36 million people lived below the poverty line in September 2022, a 9.57 percent increase compared to March 2022. Indonesia has a population of over 270 million people scattered across a vast archipelago of over 17,000 islands, and wealth disparities between rural and urban areas arefound all across the country.

Yet despite this, the government has ambitious plans. Last year, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, claimed that he was optimistic that Indonesia will become a developed, high-income country with an average per capita annual income of $10,000 by 2030, and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said that he hopes that the country will become the fourth-largest economy globally by 2045.

While a positive outlook and aggressive targets are to be lauded, the case of the family in Ciledug, mired in bureaucracy and the trappings of poverty, tell a cautionary tale of the continuing gap between the realities of citizens across Indonesia.

After two days in the freezer, the family was able to bury their baby in accordance with Islamic funeral rites, and the virality of their case has meant that they have received support from the hospital and the local authorities that would perhaps otherwise have been lacking.

Yet it should not take media coverage for everyone to receive the same human dignities in death as in life across the archipelago.