Children are lured to brothels in remote places by slimy operators. International pressure can help free them.
Trafficking in underage girls for prostitution is a growing problem in North Sumatra. The children do not understand the risk of early pregnancy or of sexually transmitted diseases. They are usually sold to the government-licensed prostitution areas (lokalisasi) at Sicanang Island or Bandar Baru near Medan, and as far as Batam Island near Singapore. About 200-300 girls are employed in the Bandar Baru lokalisasi alone. The industry is driven by growing market demand, especially for girls aged 14-18 years, who are considered free of disease. The high price a virgin fetches makes the search for them a highly profitable business. Organised trafficking syndicates present themselves as employment agencies who also offer the opportunity of enjoyable travel.
'Collectors' usually operate in crowded places such as a shopping mall. Trained to recognise soft targets, they begin by simply befriending a girl making it difficult for police to act against them. Parents, too, report the problem only after the child has gone. The typical candidate is a teenager from a lower to middle class suburban family. The children seldom refuse an invitation to visit a luxurious place, where they are brought to a madame. Here the collector gets a tip of Rp 100-200,000 (AU$20-40), depending on the beauty and virginity of the victim.
Girls who refuse to satisfy the passion of their clients invite the anger of the madame. One girl had her head smashed into a wall so that she suffered concussion and later went insane. If the guard should catch them trying to escape he will beat them up. The madame, meanwhile, routinely cuts the money the girls earn by up to 50%.
The cruelty child prostitutes suffer was exposed recently in the case of two girls who managed to escape from remote Tanjung Balai Karimun after their parents bought their freedom in February 1998. The parents took the case to the police, resulting in some prosecutions. In September 1998 police from West Java succeeded in saving another 100 children or more from the same place.
Dewi (16), who ran away from a brothel in Tanjung Balai Karimun, explained how she escaped with the help of her mother (see box). Consumers paid her Rp 150,000 (AU$30) a time, but half of that was taken by the madame. The other half was hers only in the form of vouchers, which could be exchanged for cash after working for four months. In the meantime, Dewi practically had no money. She paid for her meals, clothes and medical checks out of extra tips her customers occasionally gave her.
Similarly Fitriani (16), a beautiful girl with white skin from Sujono Street in Medan, was lured to Bandar Baru with an offer of a highly paid job in a restaurant. She did not know that Bandar Baru was a brothel lokalisasi. After asking permission from her parents she went there with her friends Afrida (15), and Kiki and Florida (both 16). Arriving in Bandar Baru she felt suspicious because she was put into an all-girl house. She wanted to go home, but was unable to leave. That first night she was forced to surrender her virginity to a man of Chinese descent. For a month she was used by guests who queued up to book her. She made Rp 2 million (AU$400). She was released after her friend Florida fell pregnant and developed a craving for martabak, the spicy Medan pancake. When the madame permitted Florida to go to Medan, she contacted her parents and the police, who prosecuted the madame.
StressThe arbitrary harassment child prostitutes suffer as the weak partner in a highly unequal relationship often leaves them with post-traumatic stress that can last throughout their lives. They are part of a unique work system ungoverned by any law. The government only half recognises their work and considers they are acting at their own risk. They do not understand the high danger of HIV/ AIDS infection to which they are exposed. Nor do their guests, who do not use a condom because they think the prostituted children are healthy.
In the West, adult men who have sexual intercourse with underage girls (even when they are in love), are considered criminals and can be punished. Indonesia has no such law. Child prostitution cannot be prosecuted as such. Even those laws (such as unlawful detention) that do exist are poorly implemented due to official collusion. It will require the cooperation of many parties to eradicate the problem of child prostitution. International support to put pressure on the Indonesian government in this matter can be very effective.
Ahmad Sofian is executive secretary of the Study Centre for Child Protection (Pusat Kajian & Perlindungan Anak, PKPA) in Medan, North Sumatra. Contact: Jl Mustafa no. 30, Medan 20238, North Sumatra, Indonesia, tel +62-61-611943, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Names of girls are fictional to protect their identity.
'Aunt Merry is a devil'My name is Dewi. I am now 16, but this happened to me when I was 15. I am the oldest in my family, and have three brothers, all still at primary school. I only finished grade five and do not go to school anymore, because I was lazy and wanted money. My father died in 1993. My mother has no work. We are a poor family. I went to Tanjung Balai Karimun because a friend of my mother's, Aunt Meta, offered me work in a restaurant with a high wage. She said she was a close friend of Aunt Merry. She sold me to Merry. I heard later that every girl Aunt Meta sold to Aunt Merry got her Rp 850,000 (AU$170). Aunt Meta said I would get Rp 200,000 (AU$40) every day. My mother, of course hoping I could help the family, agreed.
I travelled there with two friends, Opi and Melisa. It is located on a remote island near Singapore. When we arrived we went into Golden Million Hotel, and were welcomed by some beautiful young girls. 'Why do you want to work here?', they asked us. 'If you can, run away. Here you will become a prisoner!'. This surprised me. Opi and Melisa even cried. But what could we do? At last I was brough to see Merry by her guard, Sitepu. We were all asked to sign a four-month contract. Then we were employed as whores. Every girl was given a breast number. Mine was 20.
In Golden Million, Merry and her people never called anyone by name. If they wanted me, they would just call: 'Hey, twenty…'. There were about 300 people working there, all with a breast number. We worked from 9pm till early morning. We were kept in a plain room under the direct supervision of two men we called Daddy, and a Mummy. A guest would first speak with Daddy and Mummy, who would then call us.
Working in Golden Million was hell. If anyone made a mistake, Merry's people kicked them. The lightest punishment was 'charge'. That meant paying a fine. If we were sick, we had to pay for medicine ourselves. If a girl fell pregnant, the fine was Rp 500,000 (AU$100). If we menstruated suddenly while serving a guest, the fine was Rp 75,000. A doctor came to give us an injection each week that cost us Rp 200,000 each time. Golden Million provided a room for us to take a rest. Our room was for 12 to 15 people. It was very small and hot. It had no window, and no ventilation. Our meals were supplied by Aunt Merry. Every meal was crowded and rushed. Every girl owed money to Aunt Merry. She pretended to be a good woman but she was very bad. She is a devil.
Throughout the time I was at Tanjung Balai Karimun I never sent money to my mother. When she came to see how I was she had to pawn the tape recorder to our neighbour to get travel money. As soon as my mother saw my condition she wanted to take me home to Medan. But Aunt Merry said my contract still had two months to run and would not let me go. Then my mother went back to Medan without me. Two months later she came back for me. It was about April last year. I do not know how or where she got the money for her bus fare. Aunt Merry promised my mother to cash my vouchers, but she kept delaying, and my mother became scared that Merry's people would kill us.
At last we chose to run away and just forget about the money owing to me, Rp 5 million (AU$1000). The important thing was to get away from Aunt Merry. As it happened I had Rp 300,000. It was not enough for the whole trip home, so on the way I sold my necklace for Rp 60,000.
Now I am back home, with my family. I never want to go to Golden Million again. If I have the money I would like to sell rice or fried noodles from my house. If God blesses me, I want to get married to a good man who loves me and my family. I heard that Aunt Merry was arrested. I was pleased to hear it, but I would like her people to be arrested as well Daddy, Mummy, and the gangsters who protected her. I also want the money I earned there returned to me. And I want all of my friends working there to be set free as well. I pity them.