Indonesia: In this playland, kids pay to work

In Jakarta, Indonesia, a playland lets kids pay to enter its miniature city and work jobs from firefighter to tattoo artist.

Courtesy of KidZania
The entrance to KidZania, a children’s theme park in a mall.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – Its fake cobblestone streets, embedded with loudspeakers that pump in catchy pop tunes, remind one of Universal Studios or a children’s version of a Las Vegas casino.

But KidZania, a children’s theme park in a shopping mall in Jakarta, aims at more than just entertainment. The made-for-kids miniature city teaches children everything from banking to governing to negotiating wages.

After purchasing a boarding pass at the mock AirAsia counter, children receive a passport that allows them through security. A $7.50 ticket buys five- or seven-hour blocks of time to spend roaming the streets of KidZania.

The city includes 70 shops and more than 100 professions, ranging from factory worker to firefighter to tattoo artist. KidZania has a hospital where kids can change Pigeon-brand diapers and a Pertamina gas station where they can show off their Honda driver’s licenses.

KidZania is the brainchild of three Mexican entrepreneurs whose vision has expanded from Mexico to Indonesia and Japan, with parks in the United Arab Emirates and Portugal set to open this year, and more planned for India, South Korea, and Chile. Jakarta’s version is one of the largest, taking up the fifth floor of the posh Pacific Place mall.

Adult staff run KidZania, but once inside kids can take on roles. The commercial sector, for instance, includes a supermarket and a bakery, where children can prepare real confections. Each child starts out with a check for 50 “kidzos,” and if that runs out they can get a job to earn more.

KidZania’s latest addition: “Congrezz,” a government body whose 14 members were chosen by text-message polling. Every two months the child legislators must attend a meeting or visit one of KidZania’s 54 sponsored factories to review it and give feedback. And that’s not child’s play in a nation known for government corruption.

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