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