#minorsextrafficking | It’s one-way traffic for Indonesian people smugglers

The battle against people smuggling in Indonesia requires a new approach as the anti-trafficking law that has been in place for over a decade now, followed by the establishment of a cross-sectoral task force, has not shown much progress. 

In fact, with pandemic cases plummeting to their lowest level from previously being Southeast Asia’s highest, people trafficking has started to show an upward trend.

There are no exact figures on how many Indonesian men, women and children are smuggled every year, but authorities estimate a high number.

The assumption is based on the many tragedies occurring, such as when a boat capsizes or when people die in other circumstances. 

Many of these victims have come from poverty-stricken East Nusa Tenggara province. At least 117 smuggled people from this province died in 2019 alone.

Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati said the huge population of poor people in Indonesia, estimated to be around 70 million, will continue to provide rich pickings for smugglers unless something is done to turn economic prospects around.

Last month police rescued many young girls who were smuggled from West Java and forced to work in bars in the eastern part of the country

Much of the poverty is due to the pandemic and limited job opportunities.

Indonesians going abroad are usually smuggled to Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Taiwan and Japan. Some find themselves in the Middle East and several European countries. But the number of women and children trafficked domestically has also become a trend. 

The government estimates that before the pandemic — between 2016 and 2019 — nearly 5,000 Indonesians fell victim to human trafficking within Indonesia itself, including women and children for sexual exploitation.

Child trafficking has more than doubled during the pandemic, from 111 cases in 2019 to 256 in 2021. A much bigger increase is predicted during the post-pandemic era.

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Last month police rescued many young girls who were smuggled from West Java and forced to work in bars in the eastern part of the country.

It’s understandable that the government’s attention is focused on handling the pandemic. But even before the pandemic hit, the government appeared to show little interest in the problem. 

The failure of the Indonesian government to follow international laws to combat trafficking crimes has been a concern of international agencies and the United States government. 

The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2021 places Indonesia on Tier 2 for its failure to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. It highlights Indonesia’s inability to investigate or prosecute recruitment agents involved in trafficking networks.

Indonesia passed an anti-trafficking law in 2007 that imposed higher prison sentences for smugglers. Two years later, Indonesia also ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. A cross-ministerial anti-trafficking task force has also been established.

However, the US government noticed inconsistencies in the local law with international law as local legislation required a demonstration of force, fraud or coercion for cases to constitute a child sex trafficking crime.

Enforcing these elements in the law has seen many trafficking cases collapse in courts and likely criminals walk free. It has disappointed many anti-trafficking groups, including church activists.

Father Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus, an anti-trafficking activist based in Batam — a transit hub for illegal workers — who has received various awards for his efforts to help trafficking victims, blamed the increase in people smuggling on a lack of will by the government.

Smugglers are also broadening the ways in which they traffic people from the traditional recruitment of migrant workers or domestic helpers to mail order brides for supposedly wealthy foreign suitors.

Several months before the pandemic, 36 girls who were supposed to marry wealthy men ended up in forced labor in Beijing. 

Human trafficking remains a tough crime to fight because of the involvement of government officials in document manipulation

Since trafficking networks increasingly target people through social media platforms, mainly thanks to the pandemic, it’s equally important that the government develops a social media strategy to protect people. 

The anti-trafficking task force should be working like the country’s anti-terrorism squad, which actively monitors terrorist activities on social media, to prevent something before it happens.

Ideally, more job opportunities should be created at village level, particularly in West, East and Central Java provinces as well as East and West Nusa Tenggara where most trafficking victims come from.

Unfortunately, corruption and red tape often hamper the creation of new jobs.

Human trafficking remains a tough crime to fight because of the involvement of government officials in document manipulation.

The incident where a boat carrying 50 illegal migrants capsized off the Malaysian coast in December, killing at least 21 people, should open the eyes of decision makers to the dangers posed by people smugglers.

The alleged involvement of soldiers in this smuggling enterprise should not be underestimated as it seems to confirm why fighting against such networks is a difficult battle. 

This must be fixed and the first place to start is to amend the anti-trafficking law to meet international standards so that no trafficker ever walks free. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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