Mixing prayer and Maroon 5: Students dare to face the odds

“God Forbid, Toli-Toli high school students make fun of Islamic prayer!” shouts the title of a YouTube video. I clicked the link and was amazed.

I saw five teenage girls, bangs, long hair and all, one of them in a headscarf. They wore track suits and were in a classroom, lined up like a group of dancers.

Their arms, folded in front of their solar plexus’ were in poses just like salat (daily Islamic prayers). A girl chants Arabic at a beautiful pitch until American band Maroon 5’s poppy tune “One More Night” begins. Then the group breaks into a dance.

I find the video amazing and with 500,000 clicks and counting, it seems like many others do too. But the reasons for this interest differ. While Islamic vigilantes say: “How dare they?!”, pressuring the school principal to expel them and call for them to be jailed for blasphemy, I say: “How daring!”

Challenging authority, especially when that said authority rules heaven and earth, is not for the faint hearted.

The girls’ dance, switching turns between mimicking Islamic prayer and dancing to a song about “making love for one more night”, has a mischievous quality in it and they would be lying to themselves if they say it did not.

Juxtaposing the sacred and the profane is sacrilegious. However, they most probably did not intend to provoke.

Perhaps it was just for the laughs and the thrill, like when the class clown mimics the most feared teacher. They are testing the boundaries, knocking down the door that is the exit of innocence. What is it like on the other side?

They have shown incredible guts, unknowingly practicing a Nietzschean rejection of religious authority. Some, if not most of us have done it before: playing tag between girls and boys in the mosque before prayer, slipping in funny words in our Koran recitation, stealing sleep during the priest’s sermon or secretly bringing an iPod to mass. We know it is wrong, but we cannot help it. We are only human after all.

The difference between the girls’ mischief and the mischief of others lies in a smartphone, Internet connection and a lack of sensible judgment about posting it online.

The dance we see on YouTube shows two things. First, it shows a performance that reflects the lives of Indonesian Muslim teenage girls in a globalized world.

The girls took two things that are close to the lives: their daily religious rituals and pop music, and created their own version of art. Media studies majors might say they are practicing bricolage, creating something from various elements of their lives.

Second, it shows a lack of understanding of Indonesia’s youth about the power of the Internet. In Indonesia, with conservative, moralistic laws in place such as the Anti-Pornography Law, Internet Transaction Law and the Blasphemy Law, uploading information to the Internet can change someone’s life.

It is unwise to store incriminating materials on your hardrive. Unless one plans on making a political statement like Pussy Riot, then it is best to keep it to yourself.

The uproar from Islamic hard-liners as the video went viral did not come as a surprise.

This is Indonesia after all, a country where cops are on friendly terms with Islamic vigilantes, where Sunni mobs can chase away Shia minorities by burning their houses and get away with it, and where people have to hold their mass on the street because the majority does not allow the minority a place for worship.

But should the girls be sacrificed because their dance offends some people? Should these individuals, who are supposed to be preparing for their national exams, pay with their futures for the silly mistake of putting their mischievous dance on YouTube? Do the pious seriously consider dancing girls so dangerous to have them imprisoned?

The Blasphemy Law, once unsuccessfully challenged by activists at the Constitutional Court, has notoriously impinged on the rights of our religious minorities.

Now, it is going to be used to crush the futures of these young girls. The Central Sulawesi office of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) wisely said that the girls should not be expelled and sent to prison, but the girls’ school principal said he felt forced to expel them because the Muslim community was angry.

We cannot dismiss the role of parents and teachers in this conundrum. The reason why the students got into this mess in the first place is due to poor education.

Whether you view that teachers have not taught the students proper religious morals or whether they failed to teach the girls the consequences of posting stuff on the Internet, adults have a part in the mishap.

Instead of taking responsibility for his students’ future, the principal has stepped aside and allowed these girls to swim into a predatory ocean. It seems the principal lost his guts amid the uproar, but he could learn something about courage from the young girls he was supposed to educate and mentor.

Prodita Sabarini, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, April 29 2013

‘Bakar batu’: A gestaltist dance

A crackling fire heats a pile of rocks in a village in Baliem Valley under the Jayawijaya mountain range. The Lani people in Yonggime village are getting ready for a feast.

Bakar batu (rock burning) is an age old ritual in Papuan tribes. The indigenous Papuans perform the ritual on various occasions: the harvest, after a conflict resolution, a funeral, to name a few. It’s an earthy cooking method where vegetables (and sometimes game) are cooked with the heat of hot rocks placed in a hole in the ground covered by leaves and grass.

In Yonggime village in Jayawijaya’s Baliem Valley, the atmosphere is festive. They are performing the rock burning ritual to celebrate the sweet potato harvest.

The people work with amazing efficiency. They shout to each other in their melodic Lani language.

The ritual looks like a dance that requires cooperation and trust. Everyone moves fluidly. The men dig a hole in the ground and heat the rocks on a wooden platform. The women bring in the sweet potatoes in their traditional woven noken bags. When the hole is ready, the men and some women move the hot rocks with a forked stick.

Amazingly, no one bumped into each other or got burned. The village is more than just a group of people. In this dance, they are a gestalt.



Keeping warm: An old Papuan lady tends to a fire inside a traditional Papuan house.
Keeping warm: An old Papuan lady tends to a fire inside a traditional Papuan house.


Smoking: Women arrange sweet potatoes in the cooking pit. Under the grass and leaves are hot stones.
Smoking: Women arrange sweet potatoes in the cooking pit. Under the grass and leaves are hot stones.



Rolling the stones: Yonggime village women and men place hot stones on a pit covered by grass and leaves to prepare their earth oven.
Rolling the stones: Yonggime village women and men place hot stones on a pit covered by grass and leaves to prepare their earth oven.


Baggage off: A woman opens her noken, a traditional Papuan woven bag, filled with sweet potatoes next to the cooking pit, while other women bring their noken closer to the pit.
Baggage off: A woman opens her noken, a traditional Papuan woven bag, filled with sweet potatoes next to the cooking pit, while other women bring their noken closer to the pit.
Don’t leave any behind: A man arranges stones above a wooden platform while another man squats to pick up stones. The stones will be heated up by setting the logs on fire. Keeping warm: An old Papuan lady tends to a fire inside a traditional Papuan house.
Don’t leave any behind: A man arranges stones above a wooden platform while another man squats to pick up stones. The stones will be heated up by setting the logs on fire.
Keeping warm: An old Papuan lady tends to a fire inside a traditional Papuan house.

— Text and photos by Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Culture | Sat, March 23 2013

Govt calls HRW ‘naive’ for report on growing intolerance

Presidential spokesperson Julian Adrian Pasha is calling Human Rights Watch (HRW) “naive” for its report released on Thursday highlighting abuses against religious minorities in Indonesia.

“They should see Indonesia in its entirety, with its diversity and pluralism,” Julian said. “Even in a homogenous country there is friction between groups,” he said.

The 107-page report released by the New York-based group, titled In Religion’s Name: Abuses Against Religious Minorities in Indonesia, said that President Susilo Yudhoyono’s has been inconsistent in defending religious freedom.

The report also said that the government had been complicit in the persecution of religious minorities by failing to enforce laws and issuing regulations that breached minority rights.

Phelim Kine, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said on Thursday that Yudhoyono was “failing to sanction those members of his government, his government’s officials and members of the police and security forces who have been passively or actively complicit in acts of religious intolerance and violence”.

Religious hard-liners have carried out hundreds of attacks local religious minorities such as the Ahmadis, Shia, Christians and Bahai.

The intimidation and attacks have been part of a growing trend of religious intolerance in Indonesia, according to HRW. Setara, a local organization monitoring religious freedom in Indonesia, documented 264 cases of violent attacks against religious minorities in 2012, up from 244 cases in 2011 and 216 cases in 2010.

In August, for example, one man was killed as a mob of 1,000 Sunni Muslims razed 37 homes belonging to Shia Muslims in Madura, East Java, while in February 2011, three Ahmadis were killed as 1,500 Islamist militants attacked an Ahmadi community in Cikeusik, Banten.

The report said that the perpetrators have mostly come from militant Sunni groups that were “at times acting with the tacit, or occasionally open, support of government officials and police”.

The central government has also not prioritized the investigation of incidents of religious intolerance and violence for police and security forces, the report said.

The HRW also reported the so-called Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakorpakem) for inhibiting religious freedom, saying that Bakorpakem, which is under the Attorney’s General’s Office, had been influential in pressing the decision to ban religious communities.

The report said that under Yudhoyono, Bakorpakem has had an active role in prosecuting people espousing views it deemed blasphemous to Islam, such as imprisoned Shia leader Tajul Muluk and the Alexander Aan in West Sumatra, who was imprisoned for posting pro-athiest statements on Facebook.

While Human Rights Watch also said that a 2008 joint ministerial decree that banned Ahmadis from propagating their beliefs was a license to violate the rights of religious minorities, Julian said that the extra-judicial attacks against Ahmadis in 2011 resulted from their non-compliance with the decree.

Julian also denied that the police did not have a clear direction under Yudhoyono.

“When they [police] are faced with a clash that involves a violation of the law, it’s very difficult for the police to protect others — that doesn’t mean that they do not protect the right to live and human rights.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Fri, March 01 2013

Report with 107 pages:
In Religion’s Name: Abuses against Religious Minorities in Indonesia

Slide Show with 18 photos: Rising Violence against Religious Minorities


New province will attract newcomers

Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini

People move far and wide to find their fortunes. In Indonesian; there’s even a word for it: merantau. Jakarta has long been the destination for migrants looking for social mobility. Now, a new province, 1,500 kilometers away across the Java Sea, offers fortune seekers a new destination.

North Kalimantan, around 70,000 square kilometers of forests and large winding rivers carved from the northern part of East Kalimantan, holds a host of business and work opportunities, according to leaders here.

Bulungan Regent Budiman Arifin said that the creation of the province would increase the region’s annual economic growth rate, tipped at 5.63 percent in 2010, by 2 percent.

Officials are not the only ones excited. Liliek Krisnamurti, a migrant from Surakarta, Central Java, says that he has found his place in North Kalimantan and is optimistic that others would feel the same.

It was earlier this month when Liliek was traveling for business from Malinau regency to Tanjung Selor, the new provincial capital. It was a bumpy four-hour journey in a rental car. Infrastructure is meager and affordable public transportation is rare in North Kalimanatan, Demand is growing, however, resulting in, for example, the emergence of several rental car businesses.

Liliek runs an up-and-coming printing business, supplying a host of customers, from lumber mills seeking invoices to schools seeking textbooks. He moved to Samarinda in 1998 after finding that there was nothing for him in Java. At the time, he was an itinerant street singer. “I’ve tried Solo, Yogyakarta and Bali,” he said.

He then tried his luck in Kalimantan, starting off as a janitor at a print shop, where he learned the trade and soon was offered a better job. Four years ago, he moved north, to Malinau, then the largest — and poorest — regency in East Kalimantan.

Liliek said he was optimistic on the new province’s prospects. “I think it’s really good that North Kalimantan is its own province. This region has a lot of potential,” he said.

He said that Malinau, the regency he now calls home, will attract a lot of investors.

Three major coal companies currently operate in Malinau — Bara Dinamika Muda Sukses, Mitra Bara Adi Perdana and Kayan Putra Utama Coal — that produced a total of 1.89 million tons of coal valued at US$133.92 million in 2010, according to the Malinau administration.

Liliek, however, said that business and work opportunities would develop outside the extractive industries. He declined to reveal how profitable his business has been, saying that over the last four years he has been able to build a house by a river that cost him more than half a billion rupiah.

Budiman said that not long after the formation of the new province was announced, automobile dealers arrived looking for land to build showrooms in Tanjung Selor.

The regent said that North Kalimantan would definitely attract new migrants from other parts of Indonesia.

Agus Tantomo, a former East Kalimantan councilor however is skeptical that North Kalimantan regions would be better off as its own province. He said that regions in North Kalimantan would lose their share of dividends from the East Kalimantan’s southern regions extractive industries.

According to law, the central government receives 70 percent of share of income from oil and 30 percent goes to the producing region. For gas, from the 30 percent, six percent goes to regencies and cities within the producing province. Meanwhile for oil, regencies and cities from the producing province receives 3 percent of
the income.

As the regencies and the city in the new North Kalimantan produce less than East Kalimantan’s southern regions, their budget would be smaller, Agus said.

Budiman however is optimistic and claims that the province has plenty of natural resources. The Bulungan Mining Agency has issued 87 mining permits (IUPs) covering 400,000 hectares between November 2009 and February 2011, to the ilk of environmental activist. Only one of the companies is in the producing stage, the rest are still exploring.

Budiman said that officials had required companies to follow environmental standards.

“If companies don’t comply then we send warning. We can even rescind their permits.”

The regent said that he was focusing on agriculture and working with the central government to open 50,000 hectares of farmland in the Delta Kayan Food Estate. He said that 50 percent of the farmers would be local residents of North Kalimantan and the rest migrants from Java, Lampung and West Nusa Tenggara.

“They are given 2 hectares of land and an 18 month living allowance. School and health facilities are available too,” he said.

The number of migrant farmers was capped to ensure that original residents of the area were not marginalized, he added.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta, Ichsan Malik, the head of the Peace-Building Institute, said that the prospects for peace in North Kalimantan were good, despite the ethnic conflicts that have emerged in other regions where migrants have settled down far from home.

“The people are heterogeneous and the economic gap between different ethnic groups is not that wide. There is no problem with injustice,” he said.

The dominant ethnic groups in the region are national-majority Javanese, Bugis and Dayak. Ichsan, known for his peace-building work during the communal conflicts in Maluku, said that the Dayaks in the province still faced challenges. In 2010, riots between ethnic Tidung and Bugis ethnic groups erupted in Tarakan.

As a new province, the government, from its beginning, should pay more attention to the Dayak people,” he said adding that an affirmative-action was required to ensure their rights.

Meanwhile, some of those who lived in the province before its inception say that the formation of North Kalimantan will be a good thing only as far as it affects their lives for the better.

Yohanes, the village leader of Sekatak, Bulungan said many young local Dayaks have not received
the same work opportunities compared to migrants, while the land they live off has been given away for mining or timber concessions. These companies, however, have not been recruiting young Dayaks for good jobs, Yohanes said. “They take Dayaks to be security guards but not as staff.”

In the long run, with more migrants coming in, Ichsan warns that these discontents should be addressed to prevent future conflicts.

Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, Bulungan | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

Three years ahead of Governor race, possible candidates already surface

Bumpy ride: A truck drives along a dirt track in Bulungan regency. The new North Kalimantan province is hoping to speed up development in regions that lack infrastructure. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Bumpy ride: A truck drives along a dirt track in Bulungan regency. The new North Kalimantan province is hoping to speed up development in regions that lack infrastructure. JP/Prodita Sabarini

The election of the governor of North Kalimantan province is still three years away, but names are already being bounced around for the first elected leader of the new province.

Golkar party chief in Nunukan regency Ngatidjan Ahmadi said on Wednesday that his party had three names that they saw as strong candidates to support. “Jusuf SK, former mayor of Tarakan; Martin Bila****, former regent of Malinau and Anang Dahlan, former regent of Bulungan,” he said.

Jusuf Serang Kasim, a doctor who ran the Tarakan hospital before becoming mayor of Tarakan, is one of the driving forces behind North Kalimantan earning its provincial status. He founded Gerakan Kaltara Bersatu (the United North Kalimantan Movement) to intensify lobbying for North Kalimantan at the House of Representatives. Local North Kalimantan political observer from Borneo University, Yahya Ahmad Zein, says that while the initiative to form a new province came from university students of North Kalimantan origin, Jusuf SK was the man who organized and unified the movement.

“He took over, so after he finished his term as mayor he started to strengthen the movement,” he said. Yahya said that people had been sporadically advocating provincial status for North Kalimantan. “There was the KNPI (Indonesian Youth Committee) and other organizations but after he took over, the campaign for North Kalimantan was more intense and organized,” he said.

Yahya says that due to Jusuf’s work in lobbying for North Kalimantan, he is currently very popular in the region. Another potential candidate, Martin Bila, a former Malinau regent, is known for his conservation activities as Malinau mayor. In 2007, he received the Kalpataru award from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his work in preserving the environment in Malinau. Jusuf SK also received the Kalpataru award in 2006 for preserving mangroves in Tarakan.

Ngatidjan added that the incumbent Bulungan regent Budiman Arifin might be a strong contender with the backing of the Democratic Party. Budiman however declined to comment on the gubernatorial election.

The law that endorsed the establishment of North Kalimantan as a new autonomous province mandated the Home Affairs Ministry to appoint an acting governor by July 2013 at the latest. The acting governor would then prepare for the 2014 legislative election while the gubernatorial election is scheduled for 2015, three years after the passing of the law.

Jusuf, with the Gerakan Kaltara Bersatu, and politicians that sit in the East Kalimantan council representing regions that are now part of North Kalimantan territory, plans to challenge the law that leaves the new province without a local council for a year and prolongs the time until the province has an autonomous administration to three years.

“By law North Kalimantan exists, but in reality it doens’t,” Yahya said regarding the North Kalimantan administrative arrangement. In fact voters in the regions of North Kalimantan are still included on the electoral roll for the East Kalimantan gubernatorial election in 2013.

Constitutional Court expert Ni’matul Huda said that each of the prospective challengers had a chance at winning, as quoted by radartarakan.co.id. She also questioned the accountability of the acting governor in managing the budget.

Ngatidjan said that the three-year hiatus could cause the political map to change ahead of the election.

Yahya also said that it was too early to predict the candidates that would run for governor.

Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, Bulungan | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

A new province is born

Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini

Indonesia’s newest province is North Kalimantan, carved out of one of the nation’s richest provinces, East Kalimantan. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman report from Bulungan regency, the home of its future capital. 

To the north of East Kalimantan, bordering the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, a new province — Indonesia’s 34th — is in the making.

North Kalimantan was born after the gavel was pounded at a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives in Jakarta in October.

A little over two months later, across the sea around 1,500 kilometers from the capital, there are few signs of the province’s existence. In Tanjung Selor, the capital of Bulungan and the proposed provincial capital, a sign in front of the old regent’s office reads: “Preparations for the North Kalimantan Gubernatorial Office”. The office is a simple low-rise yellow building.

The House bill that authorized the creation of North Kalimantan mandated the home minister to prepare governmental infrastructure and to appoint an acting governor within nine months.

Bulungan Regent Budiman Arifin said that the acting governor would have their office in the yellow building, which sits on about 1.6 hectares in the city. “It will be up to the new governor if they want like to renovate it,” he said.

North Kalimantan’s establishment came as a surprise: A government issued moratorium on the formation of new autonomous regions in 2009 was effectively flouted by the House. The last province to be established before North Kalimantan was West Sulawesi in 2004, but new regencies continued to be created. The government wanted to halt the creation of new provinces and regencies as the process had been prone to conflict. In 2009, for example, angry protesters barged into the North Sumatra Legislative Council’s chambers, demanding that the body approve the formation of the province of Tapanuli. The council speaker’s Abdul Aziz Angkat, died of a heart attack out of shock.

North Kalimantan comprises four regencies — Bulungan, Nunukan, Malinau and Tana Tidung — and Tarakan city.

In early January, the regents and the mayor visited Samarinda for events marking the 56th anniversary of East Kalimantan. Budiman, who was at the event, said he was wistful and relieved at the same time. “This will be our last time going to Samarinda for the anniversary. Next year, we will be celebrating our own.”

Tarakan mayor Udin Hianggio says the history of North Kalimantan began 12 years ago, when a group of university students hailing from the northern part of East Kalimantan, who were studying in Malang, East Java, launched an initiative to separate from East Kalimantan.

Back then, oil-rich Berau regency, which also includes the popular tourist destination of Derawan, was to have been the cornerstone of the new province. Berau was eventually kept within East Kalimantan.

Regional leaders and civil society groups met regularly to prepare their request to establish a new autonomous region. They established an association of regional leaders and a lobbying group headed by former Tarakan mayor Jusuf SK.

“This has been a long struggle,” mayor Udin said, “Praise God, [the new province] is now passed as law.”

The House mandated that a budget for North Kalimantan’s operations and elections be allocated by the East Kalimantan provincial administration and the four affected regency administrations. East Kalimantan has been pegged to provide Rp 300 billion for the new province; Bulungan regency, Rp 50 billion.

The rationale behind the creation of a new province, Budiman said, was administrative ease. East Kalimantan was previously the nation’s second-largest province in terms of area after Papua. Officials in the northern part of East Kalimantan had to take boats, planes and a bumpy day’s car ride to Samarinda, East Kalimnatan’s provincial seat.

Budiman said that having the provincial capital in the north would speed administration, speed progress and speed the elimination of poverty. The regions in the north were the poorest in resource-rich East Kalimantan, lacking infrastructure while featuring double-digit poverty rates. Malinau was the worst off, recording a poverty rate of 15.31 percent in 2010, according to the East Kalimantan Statistics Agency.

Another reason to form a new province was to better secure Indonesian territory that borders Malaysia. In 2002, Indonesia lost a legal battle with its neighbor to keep Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in the Makassar Strait. Lawmaker Agun Gunandjar Sudarsa of House Commission II on regional autonomy said that the establishment of North Kalimantan would secure the loyalties of Indonesians living on the Malaysian border.

“We saw the history of how our country lost Sipadan-Ligitan [islands,” Udin said. “That’s an example [of the effect] of an area which is too vast.”

However, critics say that establishment of new autonomous regions has been costly, claiming that a lack of capacity has meant that new regions have failed to improve the people’s welfare.

According to the Home Ministry, 57 of 205 autonomous regions established between 1999 and 2004 have failed to increase welfare or public service. The Home Ministry now regularly evaluates these new provinces, regencies and municipalities, which it can order to be reintegrated with their original regions if found wanting.

Budiman, however, is certain that North Kalimantan will be able to serve its people. “Many of the new regions that resulted from decentralization in East Kalimantan have succeeded, starting from Tarakan, Malinau regency, Nunukan, West Kutai, East Kutai, Bontang, Penajam, and Tana Tidung regency,” he said.

All the regions in North Kalimantan were once a vastly larger Bulungan regency. Tarakan, Malinau. Nunukan, Tana Tidung were part of Bulungan until they became autonomous.

He said that the human resources to staff the new province were available in Bulungan and the other regencies.

The staff and acting governor of North Kalimantan are currently staffed by appointments from the ministry. “The acting governor will not open all the [provincial] agencies yet, only the vital ones, such as those for public works, health agency, etc….,” Budiman said.

To anticipate the flow of migrants coming to Bulungan as Tanjung Selor becomes the provincial capital, access to clean water and other services would be increased, Budiman said. He added that he would work with the state electricity company PLN to increase the power supply in the region.

“More people will come here as we become a new province. We have to be ready for that,” he said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

Law enforcers participate in sexual exploitation of children


Visitors surf the web at an Internet cafe. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
Visitors surf the web at an Internet cafe. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

She saw the boots that he wore, and in his bag she saw a uniform. “He brought his police uniform with him,” said a girl identified as W, 20, as she recounted her experience.

She was 17 when she started to meet with adult men “mostly in their 30s and married” in her hometown of Bandung for sexual transactions.

From her experience, she said that police officers and soldiers looked for underage girls for sex. Being men of the law did not stop them from looking for instant sexual satisfaction, she said.

UNICEF estimated that 30 percent of female prostitutes in Indonesia were under 18 years old and that around 40,000 to 70,000 children in Indonesia have been victims of sexual exploitation.

Indonesia has signed, but has yet to ratify, the optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Indonesia enacted the 2007 Anti-trafficking Law and set up an anti-trafficking task force, but few improvements have been achieved since, according to Arist Merdeka Sirait, director of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA).

In Bandung, the Bahtera Foundation, an NGO that works in child protection, has reached out to more than 600 children who are involved in child prostitution.

According to the foundation’s director, Tamami, children in Bandung became involved in commercial sexual exploitation through peer pressure and a drive toward consumerism.

Irwanto, the director of ECPAT Indonesia — an NGO that works against child pornography, exploitation and trafficking — said that in the country’s fight against sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children, the government had not yet put forth a serious effort in protecting children.

Further, Irwanto said law enforcers were sometimes part of the problem and that the lack of proper sex education led children to search for answers in the “wrong places”.

Endang Supriyati, the director of the Bandungwangi Foundation, an NGO set up by sex workers, said that it was really difficult to break the chain of child sex trafficking as corrupt police are easily bribed.

She said the police would take bribes from owners of bars and cafes that employed underage girls as sex workers.

Endang, 28, said that she was a victim of child sex trafficking. Hailing from West Java, she was sold by her parents to work in the red-light district in Jatinegara when she was 12.

She said that corrupt police officers would tip off owners of clubs and bars that employed underage children when a raid was about to happen. “They were already paid [by the bar owners],” she said.

And if underage girls were caught in a police raid, Endang said, they were treated “as if they were robbers” and endured sexual harassment, rather than being treated as victims. “When the girls are taken away in a police van, they touch the girls’ behinds,” she said.

Worse, she said, was that there were some officers who abused their power and forced child prostitutes to have sex with them without paying.

Endang said that the children were helpless in reporting this sexual violence to the police, as they were in a marginalized position and were forced into prostitution.

The biggest factor behind the reluctance to speak out, Endang said, was that the adults involved in trafficking rings were often from the child’s own family.

“I hate that I was sold to work as a prostitute, but I could not report my own mother. She’s my own mother after all,” she said. “The uncle, the father, the grandfather, the cousin, all are related and work there,” she said.

Rather than focusing on law enforcement issues, the Bandungwangi Foundation takes a different approach to fighting child prostitution. “We find that focusing on law enforcement is futile and not our job. Here in Bandungwangi, we try to reach the girls, provide some guidance and slowly give them the confidence to say ‘no’ and walk away from forced prostitution,” she said.

Out of the 20 people that the foundation has reached, eight have stopped working in the sex industry.

“Sometimes the problem is just fear and a lack of confidence. These children feel that they cannot say no to their parents and feel that they have already been stigmatized by society,” she said.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Sun, January 27 2013

Looking for safe ground on the Internet

Children test the free Internet connection at a children’s festival in South Jakarta in this file photo. (JP/P.J. Leo)
Children test the free Internet connection at a children’s festival in South Jakarta in this file photo. (JP/P.J. Leo)

New technologies are forever a blessing and a curse, as in the case of inevitable exposure of the young to unknown abusers in cyberspace. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini reports on the issue from Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung, on the preparedness, or lack of it, in preventing children from falling victim to sexual predators.

According to ECPAT International, cyberspace is home to more than 1 million images of tens of thousands of children being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. A 2010 report from the International Watch Foundation states that 17 percent of the world’s child sex abuse web addresses are based in Asia.

From a two-month survey conducted by ECPAT this year, the foundation discovered 137 cases of commercial sexual exploitation that used social media or mobile messenger services in Jakarta, Bandung and Batam.

The director of ECPAT Indonesia, Irwanto, said that the pervasiveness of the Internet in children’s live made children to vulnerable to sexual predators lurking online. “This can happen to anyone,” he said.

The mother of a 14-year-old girl from Depok who fell prey to an online sexual predator and was nearly trafficked to Batam, said she hoped the government would take firmer action against sexual predators who exploited the Internet to search for their victims.

She endured sleepless nights when her daughter, identified as SAS, did not return home in late September after saying that she was going to visit a sick friend before heading to church choir practice.

SAS was allegedly kidnapped and taken to Bogor, drugged and repeatedly raped by Catur Sugiarto, 24, a man who befriended her on Facebook. Child activists believe a child sex trafficking ring was involved as SAS said that her kidnapper told her she was to be shipped to Batam, an island that is a notorious sex trafficking destination. SAS was found on Sept. 26 at the Depok bus terminal after her alleged captor left her there. SAS’ lawyer, Dwi Handi Pardede, said that her kidnappers probably became scared because of the media coverage of the missing girl and returned her to Depok.

SAS also said that she saw at least four other girls between the ages of 14 and 17 in the house where she was held captive.

SAS’ abduction brought the issue of online-based sexual violence against children to the fore. But it also showed a sinister side of some members of the public against victims of sexual violence. SAS was denounced and humiliated in front of other students by her former school principal on her first day back at school after the ordeal.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh made a controversial statement about underage victims of rape, implying that a lot of girls consented to sex and then claimed rape.

The minister made this comment despite the fact that consent is irrelevant in sexual relations between an adult and a minor. Under the Penal Code and the Child Protection Law, any kind of sexual relationship between an adult and a minor is a crime.

SAS’ mother said that her daughter was trying to rebuild her life and that she had changed schools. She worried though about other girls as her daughter’s kidnapper remained at large. “The police haven’t caught the perpetrator. The government has to act more firmly. Other victims are at risk,” she said.

Indeed, SAS’s story is hardly the only incidence of sexual violence. The National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA) this year received 129 reports of missing children. The commission believes that 27 of them went missing after meeting their abductors through Facebook.

With the many risks that come with social media, parents should monitor their children’s online activity, a child activist says.

Irwanto, the director of ECPAT Indonesia, a child protection NGO, said that parents should be aware of the dangers posed by social media and take active steps to protect their children.

Irwanto said that one way was to install monitoring software on their computers to monitor their children’s social media accounts.

Software developers and security firms have released applications for parental monitoring. Among the paid products and services available are ZoneAlarm SocialGuard, TrueCare and SocialShield. MinorMonitor also provides free monitoring software.

These applications allow parents to monitor their children’s online activity, including alerting parents to the existence of their chidren’s acquaintances with a low number of mutual friends and identifying online friends that might be too old.

Children’s activities online leave them vulnerable to sexual predators, cyber-bullying, pornography and sharing too much personal information online.

Irwanto said that parents should also try to have an open discussion about sex education. “Many teenagers do not know who to talk to about sex,” he said. He said that children were at risk of looking for answers among their peers, which could lead to risky sexual behavior and sexual exploitation.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Sun, January 27 2013

Children defenseless against online crimes

The Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post

The advent of social media and mobile messenger services has increased the risk of social exploitation for children. In Bandung, adults use BlackBerry Messenger or Facebook to approach teenagers for sexual encounters. But as the danger increases, adequate protections have failed to keep up.

While the adults — mostly male — get away with sexually exploiting young girls scot-free, their young victims are left with an experience that has been forever etched in their memories.

“If I look back, automatically I would not have done it had I knew that my life would be ruined,” said C, 20, a former child prostitute. C said that she was a curious and hard-headed child. She disliked school and got expelled when she was an eighth-grader. “They [the teachers] knew that I was troubled,” she said. She was also estranged from her family due to her sexual orientation. “My father continued to scold me because I liked women,” she said.

Ridden with teenage angst, she joined a motorbike gang, became a child prostitute and later became the “Ibu (mother)”, pimping out young girls her age to older men.

C said she used BlackBerry Messenger to communicate with clients. “We can send a video and they can see how the girl looks,” she said. Another girl, W, said that she was solicited on Facebook after men looked at her profile picture.

Irwanto, the director of ECPAT Indonesia, an NGO that works against child pornography, sexual exploitation and trafficking, said that whatever the circumstances surrounding sex with a minor, the child was always the victim. “They [children] are not emotionally developed yet. They have yet to understand the consequences of their actions,” he said.

But far from protecting the girls from sexual exploitation, C said that when the police arrested her for working as a pimp, they traded her freedom for sex with one of the young girls that she managed.

Social media is extremely popular among Indonesians, including among children. Indonesia is home to more than 50 million of the 550 million Facebook users worldwide.

A 2012 survey by Minormonitor shows that 38 percent of Facebook users are children under the age
of 13. The microblogging site Twitter is also popular among Indonesians, with the country representing the sixth-largest number of users in the world.

Further, smartphone technology has made it easier to connect with people through mobile messaging services such as BlackBerry Messenger and Whatsapp.

But the increase in children’s knowledge of using social media and networking services has not yet been met with an equal awareness of the dangers of sexual predators. Further, national legislation to protect children online from being lured into sexual exploitation is non-existent.

At an international conference on sexual violence against children online, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari said that sexual predators used the Internet to trick, seduce and eventually traffic children to be exploited sexually and to be forced into prostitution.

According to data from the ministry, around 100,000 children are trafficked each year. UNICEF estimates that around 40,000 to 70,000 Indonesian children have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

In the case of sexual violence against children online, Irwanto said that it was hard to estimate the number of cases in Indonesia.

“[The perpetrators] are hidden and they work in secret syndicates,” he said. Victims are also ashamed to come forward due to the stigma against victims of sexual violence.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Sun, January 27 2013

Samarinda floods blamed on mining

Panorama: A view of the East Kalimantan town of Samarinda and the Mahakam river, taken from Lipan Hill. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
Panorama: A view of the East Kalimantan town of Samarinda and the Mahakam river, taken from Lipan Hill. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)

As it goes in Jakarta, so it goes in Samarinda: heavy rains bring big floods.

A lack of water catchment areas has made flooding a certainty in Samarinda, according to local residents. And many residents of the East Kalimantan provincial capital blame the ubiquitous coal mines around the city.

East Kalimantan is known for its wealth of natural resources. The last decade has seen a boom in the region, especially in Samarinda, which has given out 76 mining concessions comprising more than 70 percent of its area. East Kalimantan has more than 1,000 mining concessions in total, in addition to numerous oil and gas blocks.

The transmogrification of green hills into open mine pits has left the once-forested city bare. The East Kalimantan Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM) has reported that Samarinda has reserved only 690 hectares of forest for water catchments, about 1 percent of its total area. Further, JATAM coordinator Kahar Al Bahri said that most of the city’s swamps had been converted into residential or industrial areas.

“When it rains in Samarinda it always floods now,” Kahar said.

Environmental experts have estimated that the city needs to designate at least 27 percent of its land as urban forests for water catchment. The city is 19,000 hectares short of that target.

Conditions are different in Balikpapan, the business capital of East Kalimantan.

Bakro, a Samarinda resident who hails from Malang, Central Java, said that Samarinda and Balikpapan, two of the most important cities in the province, were run quite differently.

“Balikpapan is better managed. They don’t provide licenses to mine willy-nilly,” he said.

Samarinda, on the other hand, seemed to be managed rather haphazardly, he said. “But because of that it’s easier to survive in Samarinda. You can go and be a street vendor anywhere in that city,” according to Bakro. “You can’t do that in Balikpapan.”

Despite the ease in finding informal work in Samarinda, environmental degradation in the city has taken its toll on its residents. Early last year, the dam that held water discharged by the mine of Samarinda Prima Coal burst and inundated hundreds of houses in muddy water, JATAM reported.

Local residents and a coalition of NGOs then launched a class-action suit against the Samarinda administration, claiming that officials had mismanaged the city and harmed residents by granting too many
mining concessions.

Samarinda Deputy Mayor Nusyirwan Ismail said that he was aware of the environmental destruction that could be wreaked by mining companies. He told The Jakarta Post that the city administration had a “creative way” to intensify its monitoring of coal mining.

The local mining agency and environmental agency monitor miners based on their adherence to environmental standards.

Companies with a low level of compliance are shut down for a month and told to repair any environmental damage.

“If after one month there is no significant improvement — or in other words no progress up to 70 percent — then their permits will be rescinded,” Nusyirwan said.

According to the deputy mayor, the permits of four companies have been rescinded for poor adherence to environmental regulations.

Nusyirwan said that there have been many conflicts between local residents and mining companies on environmental issues. “Samarinda is growing and has more than 926,000 residents. There can be frictions.”

“That’s why as a political contract, we will not issue new permits.”

– JP/Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman/Samarinda

The Jakarta Post | Special Report | Fri, January 18 2013