Child prostitution: Indonesia must do more to protect its children

Photo: Wei Wang/CC BY 2.0

The recent discovery of a large child prostitution ring in West Java has cast a light on a worrying growth in covert child exploitation being organised and managed online. 

By Fawnia

Endless crimes involving Indonesian children and underage teenagers have made their way into the headlines over the past few months; everything from rape cases to counterfeit vaccines, and now, online child prostitution. Late in August, members of the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) caught a 41-year-old man with the initials AR, at a hotel in Bogor, West Java. When arrested, AR was with six underage boys and an 18-year-old man.

Further investigation revealed that 99 children had been a victim of AR’s child prostitution ring. Most of them were between 13 to 15 years old and originated from West Java. These children belonged to underprivileged families, and AR would get in touch with them when he found a client. AR offered his service through social networking sites such as Facebook and received Rp 1,200,000 (roughly US$91) per customer. The children, however, earned the much smaller amount of Rp 100,000 to Rp 200,000 (around US$ 7-15). AR admitted that he has been in the business for over a year.

Two days after AR’s ring was uncovered, the Indonesian police arrested another two people responsible for operating a Twitter account selling the services of child sex workers. MIR, aged 21 and NNU, aged 25 were caught following online monitoring by the cyber crime patrol unit of Bareskrim. Both had offered to provide children for sexual favours for around Rp 1,500,000 (US$ 113) and Rp 5,000,000 (US$ 382). They had clients in several cities, such as Bandung, Bekasi, Medan, Surabaya, and even smaller cities like Purwokerto and Jambi.

The most unsettling news, however, was the fact that the ringleaders have used 18 mobile applications to sell sexual services. Among them was Grindr, showing AR’s target market was not limited to heterosexual pedophiles. AR also used a Facebook page named ‘Brondong Bogor’ (Brondong is a term that refers to younger males) that blatantly advertised sexual favours from underage boys.

As the police’s investigation delves deeper, the number of children involved has grown considerably. With only three suspects, investigators have identified 148 children as victims and most of them were under 17 years old. The Chief of the Witness and Victim Protection Agency, Abdul Haris Semendawai, said psychological rehabilitation would be available to the young people to recover and become functioning members of society.

Appropriate punishment?

Controversy regarding an apt punishment for the ring leaders has quickly become a hot topic. The chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), Zulkifli Hasan, dubbed the crime as deserving of a death sentence. When interviewed, Hasan furiously said, “It’s inhumane. It’s satanic! They deserve a death penalty. It’s a humongous crime.”

Similarly, the Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Yohana Susana Yembise planned to take serious steps to bring the culprits to justice. She said multiple laws were being carefully studied to ensure the adequate punishment of those responsible.

Parents around the globe know that raising children is not an easy task. Indonesian parents, however, seem to be in a constant battle to protect their children from the harmful influences that surround them. As the discussion of how to tackle the exploitation of young people continues, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa highlighted the importance of a nurturing household, saying that one victim had chosen to work as a child prostitute to replace the warmth and love he once felt at home.

Although parents are repeatedly urged to pay more attention to their children to protect them, little can be done when both parents and other family members have to work. To do better, Indonesian society has to work hand in hand to protect everyone, especially children. Doing this will build a shared responsibility that guarantees a brighter, safer future for the nation’s young people. Alongside these efforts decisive actions and heavy punishment have to be implemented to ensure the heartbreaking crime committed by AR and others can be wiped out.