Indonesia’s Shameful Export
Indonesia's Shameful Export
IT IS not something any government likes to make public, but the figures say it all: Indonesia is one of the world's largest exporters of sex workers, mainly children.
The Unicef says as many as 70,000 Indonesian children have been sold across the country's borders as sex commodities. They are employed in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Similarly, nearly half of the 400,000 estimated sex workers in Indonesia are children under 18 years old.
This grim reality has mostly been ignored, buried deep in local newspapers. In this instance, it is the lack of discussion about the problem that is disturbing. That is, until unique cases like the most recent arrest of a 'madam' emerged.
Twenty-seven-year-old Arum was arrested last month for operating a network of prostitutes from her humble food stall in a densely populated neighbourhood in South Jakarta.
Reports said she had recruited girls, mostly students between the ages of 14 and 16, to work for her by first luring them to buy items from her, on credit. These included mobile phones, clothes and shoes.
When the girls ended up with huge debts, she then made them escort older men.
The girls would meet their customers in the daytime, after school, before going home.
Arum's case was special as she did not operate in a typical 'lokalisasi' or red-light district area.
A report by the Jakarta office of the International Labour Organisation-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-Ipec) said a large number of children in the country are trapped in the worst forms of child labour, mainly prostitution.
These children come from both urban and rural areas.
Poverty is the trigger in most cases. Government reports say between three million and six million children had been left, without parental care, to eke out a living after the 1997 economic crisis.
In some rural areas, parents are also known to sell their children for money to recruits for the sex industry.
Yet it is the large cross-border syndicates, which recruit girls through deceptive means, that are running a lucrative business of prostitution and people trafficking in an industry that generates millions of rupiah a year in the country.
With the authorities, such as some police and immigration officials, on their payroll, the syndicates target Indonesia as a place for recruitment as well as a destination for sex tourists.
Activists point out the government's glaring lack of effort to tackle this problem. The government last year came up with a national plan to combat the trafficking of women and children.
But with a lack of capacity and resources, the plan was criticised as just 'lip service'. For instance, there is no budget to implement the plan.
'If we want to fight organised crime groups that are making a lot of money, we have to be willing to spend some money,' said Mr Aris Merdeka Sirait, the secretary-general of the National Commission on Children Protection, in Jakarta recently.
The government has drafted a law that mandates severe punishment for exploiters of children. But the enforcers, either out of lack of knowledge or collusion with the suspects, often ignore the law and prosecute the cases using the regular criminal code.
For activists like Mr Aris, nothing is more frustrating than seeing the stacks of cases they submit to the police receive little follow-up.
'We get hundreds of cases and data on child prostitution, but if you'd ask me a year later how many of those have been successfully prosecuted, you'd be disappointed to hear the answer,' he said.
The government only started to act when people began talking about the country's corruption problem. So, until more people start talking about it, this problem of teen prostitutes will see little change.