Wed, 23 Jul 2003

Prostitution still haunts Indonesian children

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Most children across the country would probably have nothing to cheer about when Indonesia commemorates National Children's Day on July 23, as their plight seems to be worsening over time.

A report issued by the Jakarta office of the International Labor Organization-International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC) said that a large number of children in the country were trapped in the worst forms of child labor, mainly prostitution.

The report revealed that children trafficked for prostitution were not only an urban phenomenon, but had also become common practice in rural and suburban areas.

Child prostitution stands among the worst forms of child labor, which includes working in the footwear industry, offshore fishing and the sale, production and trafficking of drugs.

A report from the office of the State Minister for Women's Empowerment said that between three to six million children had been left without parental care to scratch out a living after the economic crisis in 1997.

According to the ILO, around 1.4 million people were working as domestic workers in 2001, with up to 23 percent being children under 15 years of age.

Despite the grim picture of child exploitation, there seem to be no efforts being made to ease their plight. The government makes no point to initiate preventive measures against such practices and to rehabilitate children who have plunged into the trap of prostitution.

To make matters worse, no comprehensive data is available to measure how poorly Indonesian children had developed, the ILO- IPEC report said.

The report revealed that the condition of child prostitutes were deteriorating over the years. In Viaduct park, East Jakarta, of 109 sex workers hawking the area, 90 percent were children between the ages of 11 and 20, and had come from Indramayu, West Java. The remaining 10 percent originated from Cianjur, Bogor, Ciamis, Bandung, Subang, Banten, Karawang and Majalengka, all in West Java.

The children had come to the town and worked as prostitutes with the consent of their families.

In Bongas, Indramayu, West Java, parents play a large role in their children's entry to the underworld. Relatives or neighbors who were former sex workers persuade parents to let them take their daughters to the capital to engage in the trade.

"The parents are usually paid Rp 500,000 in advance, and after their daughters are brought to the city, they will be paid Rp 1,000,000 in cash... It's all a matter of business," the report said, adding that the parents earnestly tried to beautify their daughters prior to their departure.

The parents receive a regular installment of money from their daughters, with which they rebuild their homes or buy a new plot of land.

In the now-defunct sex worker haven of Kramat Tunggak, North Jakarta, five percent of around 4,000 sex workers are below 18 years of age. In brothels where local competition is tougher, child prostitutes are reportedly mired in deeper woes -- most of them have drinking problems and are illegal substance abusers.

Out of boredom and the perception of being treated unfairly by their customers, young prostitutes are often self-destructive. It is reported that they are also prone to murder and theft, which may arise from their being constantly under stress.

The same conditions befall child prostitutes in almost every location surveyed by the ILO-IPEC, who have been denied the chance of pursuing a normal life in their hometowns, the survey concludes.

Call me Emma, I come from a prostitution family

Emma, as she prefers to be called, is 15 years old, but some say she is 17 or 18 years old, depending on the client. An elementary school graduate, she has spent her early teenage years in and out of brothels in Jakarta.

She has known about prostitution since her childhood in Bongas, Indramayu. "It is common in my home village for a girl of my age to become a prostitute," she said.

One of her aunts is a well-known sex worker in Mangga Besar, North Jakarta. "Her name is Santi, she is 18 years old, and has been in this business for five years. She has saved a lot of money," Emma said.

Becoming a prostitute was easy, she said, as many relatives, friends and family who had long been in the business showed her the ropes. Some of her neighbors from the village even owned brothels and were pimps.

"They have openly offered me a job as a prostitute, and I think the job is good enough for me. I don't have to work hard and the money comes easily," she said.

She aspired to be successful, just like her aunt. "I am very hopeful that someday, a rich man would be interested in me and marry me," Emma said.

Although her parents did not like the occupation, they did not prevent her from following in their footsteps. "There wasn't much choice for me, they said. If I didn't go to the city, the only option left was hard work on the farm."