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