The National Commission for Child Protection will file a class-action lawsuit against the cigarette industry and the government for failing to protect children from smoking.
The lawsuit, to be filed early next month at the Central Jakarta District Court, will name the cigarette industry and the government as defendants.
“We’re not suing for material [damages], we’re demanding responsibility,” Arist Merdeka Sirait, the chairman of the commission known as Komnas Anak, said on Sunday.
“We want the cigarette industry to immediately stop its aggressive advertising and sponsorships,” he said. “We’re also demanding the government take measures to immediately contain the impact of smoking addiction.”
The lawsuit rests on medical records and psychological examinations of children addicted to cigarettes that Komnas Anak has been monitoring.
One of them, Ilham, an 8-year-old boy from Sukabumi, West Java, required a year of intense therapy to recover from his addiction, which started four years ago.
“The therapy was difficult for Ilham because he’s been an addict for so long,” Arist said. “There was a serious change in his behavior.”
Whenever he felt the urge to smoke, Arist said, Ilham would become aggressive and self-destructive, banging his head against the wall if he was denied.
“He tried to run away five times,” Arist said.
Since Ilham started therapy he has improved, and now he’s not smoking, Arist said. He’s also gained eight kilograms. “In the past he wouldn’t eat because he smoked a lot,” Arist said. “He only wanted cigarettes and coffee.”
Komnas Anak will return Ilham to his home on Thursday. But Arist said he was concerned the boy could relapse. To prevent that from happening, Komnas Anak wants his family and neighbors to quit smoking.
“If the environment is not conducive, Ilham’s parents will put him in an Islamic boarding school that is smoke-free,” Arist said.
According to data from the University of Indonesia’s Demographics Institute, Indonesian teenagers are smoking more than ever before. In 1995 around 71,000 children aged 10 to 14 were smokers, while in 2010 that figure topped 426,000.
Komnas Anak’s Lisda Sundari, said the agency was monitoring 20 little boys like Ilham.
“They all have the same background,” she said. “They come from low-income families where the parents and other members of the community aren’t very well educated and are not aware of the dangers of smoking. They see little kids smoking as something cute, even amazing.
“The government is responsible for all this — the lack of education, the lack of strict regulations — for failing to prevent this from happening.”