Enticed by Sweet Promises

Cases of human trafficking in West Java are on the rise. Drafting the required provincial regulation does not seem to be a priority.

RICO’S promise from heaven three years ago is still fresh in her memory. The 35-year-old man offered her enticements that were just too difficult to refuse: bringing home Rp30 million in just six months. Ros—not her real name—was of course shaking with anticipation and accepted the offer to work in Malaysia. “It turned out that I was to become a prostitute,” said the slightly built woman on Thursday two weeks ago. Since her return to Indonesia, Ros has been boarding at a special rehabilitation pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding school) in the city of Cianjur in West Java.

Ros is just one of hundreds of victims of human trafficking in West Java. According to the Bandung Women’s Institute, in addition to East Java and West Kalimantan, the province is one of most important “exporters” in Indonesia. “It is because of this that we are urging the immediate ratification of a regional regulation on anti-trafficking,” said Institute director Elin Rozana. Over the last two weeks the Women’s Institute has been distributing a petition to garner support for the ratification of a regional regulation (bylaw) that should have been “handed down” last year.

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Like the storyline behind so many scams, Ros did not get the job she was promised. When she met Rico at Pasirhayam in Cianjur in late 2004, he offered her a job in the entertainment field. Not long after the introduction, she was sent to Jakarta and then to the West Kalimantan provincial capital of Pontianak. From there she was taken across the boarder to Malaysia via Entikong in East Kalimantan.

Ros was handed over to a person who she recollects being called Ayong. She was provided with a place to sleep for a week because they were waiting for other workers to arrive. After eight people had arrived, they were taken to the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur. “We were picked up at the airport and taken to a collection point. It was only then that I knew what would be done [with us],” said Ros.

Unable to do anything because they were tightly guarded, she submitted to her fate. Her regular job was working at the Fames and Star In discotheques. She was also forced to service mail clients. “Every night I was ‘booked’ at least three times,” said Ros, recalling those bitter times. For one booking, her boss set a price of RM900—Ros was only given RM30. The reason given by the boss for this was that most of the money had to be used to pay back her travel costs and daily expenses.

It appeared she was not alone in her predicament. She became acquainted with Puteri and Diva—also not their real names. From their conversations, Ros discovered that the two women—both under the age of 20—were sent from Cianjur in a similar manner and the same route. They also fell victim to the man named Rico. After three months Ros could stand it no longer. She decided to flee. Late one night in early 2006, she slipped out of the dormitory and fled to the Indonesian embassy. Two of her colleagues did likewise but were not as fortunate as her. The dormitory guard caught Puteri and Diva. They later escaped after jumping from the second floor. The three were repatriated to Indonesia as illegal workers in 2006.

A similar modus operandi was employed in the case of four girls from Sukabumi, also in West Java. Initially, they met with the ‘sponsor’ at a salon in Cibeureum Nyalindung. The sponsor promised that they would be employed as waitresses at a restaurant in Jakarta. They were then taken to the offices of the Karya Setiawan Foundation, or Voluntary Workers Foundation, on the pretext that they would be dispatched to their new jobs from there.

Promises are one thing, reality another. They were instead sent to an area located in Amplang-Amplang and Teleju in Pekanbaru, Riau. “I only knew after I was taken to this place and had to service men,” said one of the victims, Laya (not her real name). Every day, the 16-year-old girl had to service at least six male clients. The fee was around Rp200,000. Not one cent of this however ended up in her wallet. Again, the reason was that the money was to repay her expenses and living costs there.

Feeling deceived, they sought a way to escape. Their efforts failed until finally one of them succeeded in contacting their parents. The police took action and forced the agent to repatriate the victims of the job scam. They were returned home in May 2005 and the agent was taken into police custody. Information was obtained from Laya that many similar aged women had met a similar fate. “In addition to Sukabumi [in West Java], I heard that most of them were from Cianjur,” said Laya.

Generally, victims are directly approached by a broker, who people generally refer to as a “sponsor.” Others choose a roundabout approach though the victim’s parents. According to Ahmad Yani, the head of Sanggar Teratai (Lotus Studios) in Indramayu, West Java, based on a number of cases, it is this means that is mostly used and considered most effective to procure the girls.

Usually, said Yani, parents are given a cash advance of at least Rp2 million. After their child is in Jakarta, the parents are given a motorbike. This is not free, however, and has to be paid off in installments by the parents. In the end they are tied to paying off the motorbike and leave their child to “work.” “They use methods such as this so that the parents’ hands are tied,” said Yani.

The reasons for the large number of cases of human trafficking in West Java are complex and varied. According to Tamami Zain from the Bahtera Foundation, the main causes are poverty and poor education. “Perhaps also because West Javanese women are very beautiful,” she said jokingly.

Elin Rozana disagrees with this view. “The main reason is economic,” she said. She cited the high prevalence of early marriages in several parts of West Java. As a consequence, said Elin, the divorce rate is also high. It is these divorced women who become a soft target for trafficking. “It’s crowded here,” said Elin, quoting from a female victim of human trafficking.

Economic reasons may not be the only cause. Sanggar Teratai once conducted research in 2007 involving 50 girls who had been victims of trafficking and employed as sex workers. The girls interviewed were between 16 and 18 years old. When asked the reason, generally they answered, “[I] wanted to help [my] parents.” Yani however said that they also admitted to being encouraged by the example of neighbors: former sex workers had better houses, luxury electronic goods and cars. “So, it is also triggered by thoughts of a short-cut to wealth,” said Yani.

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There is growing concern over the number of human trafficking cases in the province of 38 million people. The Bahtera Foundation, which has been repatriating trafficking victims, notes that there is a rising trend in the number of cases. In 2005, the organization repatriated 120 people, the following year this had risen to 160. In 2007 the number of victims rose drastically to 326. And the phenomenon is like the tip of an iceberg. “These [are the ones] successfully repatriated, but the number of actual cases is more than that,” said Bahtera Foundation Director Tamami Zain.

Based on the Bahtera Foundation’s data for last year, the majority of victims that were recruited became domestic workers. However the number that became sex workers was not insignificant either: 152 people. Most of the victims were women, only two were men. As many as 64 were under the age of 18. Of those assisted by the Bahtera Foundation, said Tamami, the victims that were taken to the Riau Islands, Bantam and Pontianak usually became sex workers. If they were sent to Malaysia, Singapore or Taiwan, they became domestic workers. “But, there were also some who went overseas and became sex workers,” she said.

The government and the West Java Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) admit to having similar concerns. It was because of this that the idea of drafting a regional regulation arose four years ago. But the facts speak otherwise. The West Java DPRD Commission E submitted the regulation in September last year, but by 2007 the deliberations had still not been completed.

The draft version submitted to the DPRD, called the Draft Regulation on the Prevention and Elimination of Human Trafficking, contains 23 articles. The West Java provincial government also has a draft called the Draft Regional Regulation on Tackling Human Trafficking. The criminal penalties refer to provisions in Law No. 27/2007 on the Eradication of Crimes of Human Trafficking, which stipulates a minimum penalty of three years in jail and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

There are numerous reasons why the regulation has not been completed; starting with the large number of holidays and recesses taken by House members, but also because it was considered less important than other agenda items. “Indeed it has consistently been overtaken by other bylaws,” said West Java DPRD Commission E member Diah Nurwita Sari. The head of the West Java regional government’s Legal Bureau, Achadiat Supratman said, “Because it stalled at the end of the budgetary year, in the end it was agreed that it would be discussed in 2008.” Commission E member Iemas Masithoh says that this indicates that the regulation has not become a priority. The fact is says Iemas, the regulation will only begin being deliberated this year, while the number of human trafficking cases continues to rise.

Abdul Manan, Deden A. Azis, Ivansyah, Erik P. Hardi

Tempo Magazine, No. 24/VIII/February 12-18, 2008


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