Australian Embassy

Human Trafficking (Remains) Rampant, Wrapped in Various of Tricks


Human Trafficking (Remains) Rampant, Concealed in Various Guises

Ibu Sulis growls as she recounts what happened to one of her daughters who fell victim to – and eventually survived – human trafficking in late 2013.

“I cannot imagine her fear. She was away from home, working in that forsaken place. She saw everything, she was not herself when I managed to get in touch with her and hear her voice on the phone after being separated for so long,” Ibu Sulis says furiously.

“Our family was experiencing difficulties. Children saw how their parents never got along. Maybe that’s one of reasons Bella decided to leave,” says Ibu Sulis who hails from Palopo, South Sulawesi.

“My daughter may have been frustrated and could not endure the conditions in our family,” the 45-year-old said.

Bella, born in 1995 was, according to her mother, tempted by the Rp 10 million monthly salary offered to work as a Sales Promotion Girl. She received the offer from a childhood friend who worked in Dobo, a small town in the Aru Islands of Maluku.

With another best friend, Bella quietly left her village of Rawamangun in Palopo for Makassar, believing that earning money would be the answer to her restlessness. The girls stayed one night in a hotel and then met their future employer, who turned out to be the owner of a night club. They were told to pick up flight tickets near the Makassar bus terminal before leaving for Ambon, the capital of Maluku, the following day.

Operating separately in different areas, perpetrators of human trafficking are known to use cell systems which make them difficult to track down. Their methods are similar to those used by drug rings.

Upon arriving in Ambon, the Palopo girls were picked up and brought to Aru Island. From there, their bitter story began.

“She was an intern for three months before she was allowed to be taken out. During the internship, she served drinks to guests, was told to wear skimpy dresses and was displayed inside a glass-walled room. I can say my daughter was half naked,” says Ibu Sulis, recalling what she has heard from her daughter.

Bella and her friends witnessed terrible treatment of female employees, not only from the customers but also from their male colleagues, as well as the club owner.

“They turned women into animals. (They) claimed they owed debts that they obviously could not repay. The women there were helpless; they could not leave the place at all because they were mired in debts and had to raise their children whose paternity was unknown.”

“Bella also saw her ailing and pregnant friends being taken from the island. None ever returned.”

Bella’s is only one of so many bitter stories of trafficked people that never make it to the headlines – in most cases they are swept under the rug. Although constantly changing and in some cases updated, human traffickers continues to lure victims with fantastic monthly wages. Social media is also used to dupe gullible minors. And there have been cases where victims were ensnared promising bogus umra (minor haj pilgrimage) trips.

Nur Atin from the Women’s Empowerment and Family Planning Agency’s South Sulawesi Province revealed that some people were sent abroad to work as cheap labourers after falling into the trap of signing up for umra trip packages. “This modus operandi is usually used to smooth over problematic travel documents. Most importantly the people can be sent out of the countries to recruiting agencies that are willing to pay.”

And in several areas in South Sulawesi such as Bone and Bulukuma, leaving hometowns in a bid to find luck in big cities or merantau has been a long-held tradition. As a result, when community members become victims of human trafficking, they are not considered victims but as facing the natural consequences of their chosen path, Nur Atin adds. Nationwide, other provinces share a similar tradition, which helps to explain why human trafficking remains rampant despite the government’s ongoing efforts to tackle it.

“The two are completely different. The community and governments at the village levels as well as customary leaders must understand that the two things are different. Human trafficking is a crime and not a consequence of merantau,” Nur Atin says.

Nur Atin was one of speakers during a workshop for socialisation of Law No 21/2007 on Eradication of Human Trafficking in mid-March in Makassar. The event was jointly organised by the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Justice and South Sulawesi Province’s Development Planning Agency.

In the past three years, South Sulawesi is no longer a source of labour but has also grown into a destination. International sea ports in Makassar and Pare-Pare have become important gateways used as route to dispatch people. Potential labourers from East Nusa Tenggara, Java, Southeast Sulawesi and North Sulawesi are usually brought to Makassar or Pare-Pare before sent out to countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and even in Africa.

Data from various sources cite that about 2% of Indonesian migrant workers are victims of human trafficking. At present, 3-4 million migrant workers are spread across cities in various countries. A new trend in human trafficking is to target children for commercial sex exploitation in mining sites in Maluku, Papua and Jambi (IOM data). Reporting of illegal migrant workers by Government and non-government sources has increased following the implementation of biometric travel documents, which are more difficult and expensive to forge. Children without official birth certificates are also vulnerable to falling victim to human trafficking.

South Sulawesi is the first province in the country that gives free birth certificates to all newborns, even those born out of wedlock.

“But giving away free birth certificates is not enough. First and foremost officials must understand what human trafficking is, what the MOs are and how to prosecute such cases,” Nur Atin says.

Police Commissioner Jamillah from South Sulawesi Police conceded that, in general, law enforcers still lack knowledge of human trafficking.

“If (police) officers are not willing to trace the investigation process from its early stages and instead jump to the end of the story, it is too easy to incorrectly apply labour law (if the case is related to labour) or the Child Rights Protection Law (if it concerns a minor). In this way, traffickers can easily avoid the more severe punishment imposed by the anti-human trafficking law,” Jamillah says.

Jamillah admits it is difficult to talk about data due to inconsistent reporting and unorganised recording. This issue was also raised by the Chairwoman of South Sulawesi Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Tenri Olle, who also chairs the Commission of South Sulawesi Provincial Council.

“Even officials who have been trained and should serve as our focal points have moved positions or been transferred to other regions or divisions before others have been trained,” Tenri says.

In the context of law and regulation, the South Sulawesi administration is a step ahead of other regions with a recently issued bylaw to translate the legal mandate and also establish working groups tasked with early detection or crime prevention.

Cooperation with AIPJ, among others, includes strengthening policy implementation. AIPJ team leader Craig Ewers was present at the workshop and signed a joint commitment to tackle human trafficking.

“Our presence here is to encourage cooperation from across sectors. It is not the time to blame one another, because the issue we are fighting needs close cooperation and requires contributions and solutions from all sectors.”

“The policy and legal framework in Indonesia is sound. Australia applies similar laws which can be harmonised to contribute to a common effort to eradicate human trafficking practices, not only in Indonesia but across the ASEAN region” Craig said, when asked to share his views.