Indonesia’s Child Trafficking Crisis

Indonesia faces a huge problem of child trafficking involving children and underage teenagers, particularly on the resort islands of Bali and Batam, with its victims – both boys and girls – usually from poor families or broken homes or a combination of both. The government has been criticized by international human rights organizations to try to get control of the problem, but so far it has been depressingly ineffective, aiding only a tiny fraction of victims.

More boys than girls

As an indication of government ineffectiveness, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, known by its Indonesian initials KPAI, estimates that 100,000 children and women are trafficked each year in Indonesia, that 30 percent of sex workers are below the age of 18, and 40,000 to 70,000 Indonesian children who are not trafficked are victims of sexual exploitation. Meanwhile, data from the Ministry of Social Affairs noted that in 2016, there were 56,000 underage sex workers in the country. In addition to being mistreated domestically, boys and girls from 15 to 18 years old are trafficked to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore for sexual purposes, many through the Riau Islands, Kalimantan and Sulawesi to tourist destinations in Malaysia and Singapore.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Children Protection regarding violence against children, sexual abuse is experienced more frequently by boys than by girls, although both genders have suffered greatly. In fact, the survey noted, one out of every 12 boys have experienced such abuse, whereas in girls, the ratio is one in 19.

Underage males become more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation, according to the studies, because boys are generally considered to have masculine and strong characteristics that are more dominant than in girls. This leads perpetrators to assume that they would are at lower risk of being caught. Boys are more resistant to trauma and tend to keep what they experience as a secret.

Police say the growing prevalence of children being traded for sexual activities in Indonesia is closely related to the advancement of telecommunications and the growing usage of social media, with pimps creating accounts on various social media platforms such as BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook and others to spread the photos and personal data of their youthful victims in order to attract potential customers. The ease of accessing and eventually ordering up children for customers is one thing responsible for the increased number of underage males being illegally trafficked for prostitution, the studies show.

Government Must Put an End

The roles of the government and authorities are crucial in tackling the issue of child prostitution. Blocking pornographic and sexually explicit sites must increase exponentially. With the October 2016 legislative revision of Indonesia’s Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) and Pornography Law, the police have binding legal powers to exercise control over suspicious websites that are accessible to the public.

In addition, the government can appeal to the users of social media to report suspicious accounts, so substantial legal action can be taken immediately to block and investigate them. It is a concrete effort from all parties that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators and secure the young victims.

Meanwhile, to the perpetrators, severe punishment and sanctions that have a deterrent effect must be imposed, critics say. The suspects could face multiple charges under article No. 11/2008 on Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law, Law no. 44/2008 on Pornography, and Law no. 21/2007 on Combating Human Trafficking, as well as Child Protection Act.

The number of victims may not reflect a significant portion of the young male population in Indonesia, but such crimes can’t be measured only by seeing those children who have been recorded as victimized. In fact, many of the victims are afraid to come forward. Appropriate rehabilitations for those victimized must be initiated by the government. As they are mostly underage, it is important to provide those rescued with correct rehabilitation programs in order to integrate them back into the society and normal lives.

The wider society bears responsibility as well. The government, hand in hand with the community, should come together in building a safer environment for children and teenagers. Indonesia badly needs funding for more community and creativity centers where children can channel their hobbies, interests, energies, and freedom of expression in positive containers through arts and sports. Communities can encourage their citizens to preserve and expand youth organizations such as Karang Taruna and the likes and organize activities that have a more positive impact.

The role of a functioning family is much needed to put a stop to problems related to juvenile delinquency or being the victims of any criminal act. The KPAI has been pushing in vain since 1999 for sex education in the schools because parental advice is almost laughably inadequate. With the continuing spread of the internet, pornography is widely viewed down to the kampong level. Thus, children do not find out for themselves about sexuality but instead are plunged into the world of pornography.

It is important for parents to control the usage of internet and social media by their children. Not only that, children also need to be given education to be more critical in using social media. Schools, where young children spend most of their time, also play an important role in both prevention and rehabilitation. Appropriate sex education must be incorporated into the national curriculum. This must also be accompanied by a focus on character development among students besides academic skills.

As the number of child prostitutes grows, real, concrete and genuine efforts by all of the country’s institutions are required. If not, it is difficult to know where all of this are going to end.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester. Dikanaya Tarahita is a freelance writer from Indonesia and studied HR Management and Industrial Relations at the University of Manchester.