Children are often lured from poor communities by traffickers who promise jobs in restaurants, factories or as domestic workers. But when the children reach their urban destinations, often in tourist hotspots such as Bali and Riau Island, they are forced into prostitution.
In some cases, traffickers even forge partnerships with local school officials to set up bogus vocational training programs. Young women are then lured by fraudulent courses or ‘internship’ opportunities. As a first step to tackling this problem, last year, the Indonesian government established the National Coalition for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children at the University of Indonesia.
However, it’s the outright kidnapping of children which is particularly worrying the authorities and local non-governmental organisations in the country. In a recent report by the news agency IRIN, the chairman of the National Commission on Child Protection said that over 180 children (aged up to 12) had been reported missing by their parents in 2011 (up from 111 in 2010). Some cases involved children being kidnapped from their homes. In the South Sulawesi Province, eight young girls have gone missing from poor families. Experts also fear that the true numbers of missing children are probably much higher than the reported cases.
In 2007, Indonesia passed a human trafficking law, where offences are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. And a National Task Force Against Human Trafficking was set up in 2008. However, campaigners say that the issue is not a high enough priority and there are not enough funds to back the investigation of these crimes. Less than 1% of cases are brought to court. Moreover, not enough is done to tackle law enforcement officials who are complicit in human trafficking; it is not uncommon for police to be aware of child prostitution, but to fail to intervene, particularly where brothels pay protection money to police or military officials.
The national coordinator of one NGO which works in the field of child prostitution told IRIN “investigating cases of child trafficking is not a priority for police”. She cited the difficulty of gathering evidence, as well as a lack of funding as the main reason. However, since many of the victims come from poor families in rural villages, it’s also hard not to conclude that Indonesia’s officials simply don’t place a high enough priority on children from the poorest sections of society.