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