Recent cases of missing children in Indonesia have raised concerns about human trafficking and a lack of law enforcement resources to combat it, say child welfare activists.
At least 182 children aged 0 to 12 were reported missing by their parents in 2011, up from 111 in 2010, the National Commission on Child Protection chairman, Arist Merdeka Sirait, told IRIN.
“These are only the cases that were reported to us, so there are likely more cases out there, but even one child missing is a tragedy,” he said. Thirty-nine of the missing children were babies stolen from maternity clinics.
Sirait said he suspected that a human trafficking network could be seeking to use the children for illegal adoption, commercial sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, and domestic and international child labour.
“Such crime usually involves people who are close to the children. In cases that happened in maternity clinics, employees are usually involved,” he said.
“But police usually treat such cases as ordinary crimes, and are not serious about tackling the larger human trafficking network,” he noted.
In recent months, local media have reported cases of children being kidnapped from their homes. Eight young girls from poor families in Bantaeng, in South Sulawesi Province, have been taken since 2010.
Pribuadiarto Nur, deputy minister for child protection at the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, said data on human trafficking in Indonesia were “sketchy”.
In 2011, police investigated 126 cases, in which 68 of the victims were children, but the actual number who have disappeared could be much higher, he said.
“This crime is trans-national in nature. Provinces near the border with Malaysia and Batam, near Singapore, are especially vulnerable,” Nur told IRIN.
In 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set up the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking, one year after parliament passed the human trafficking law. Under this law, all forms of human trafficking are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Ahmad Sofian, the national coordinator for the NGO, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) Indonesia, said in 2011 his organization identified 425 children nationwide as victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation.
As many as 120 of these children are being cared for by ECPAT Indonesia. “Victims of child trafficking are a hidden population. It’s hard to come up with accurate statistics, but estimates range between 40,000 and 70,000 every year,” Sofian said.
Less than 1 percent of cases are brought to court. “Investigating cases of child trafficking is not a priority for police because of difficulty in gathering evidence and a lack of funding,” Sofian said.
“The scenes of the crime and the locations of the children are often different,” he said. “The cost of investigations is higher than other criminal cases, but the budget is the same.”
The victims are usually women under 18 years old from poor families in villages who are lured by the prospect of jobs and scholarships in the cities, he said.
An estimated 30 percent of women in prostitution in Indonesia were below the age of 18, according to a 2010 ECPAT report.
“Friending” the victims
A report by the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking, published in January 2012, notes that members of trafficking rings use the internet, including the popular social networking site, Facebook, to lure their victims to big cities such as Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya. Indonesia is second only to the US in the number of Facebook users.
Traffickers also use victims, with the ringleaders promising them more money and better facilities if they recruit more victims, the report said.
“The police have reported that they often experienced difficulty in investigating human trafficking because perpetrators and their victims usually refuse to reveal the identity of the ringleaders.”
According to the 2011 US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, Indonesia is not “fully complying” with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making “significant” efforts to do so.