On the surface, Ira* seemed a normal 15-year-old Indonesian girl.
Her government carers warned me she could be aggressive toward strangers, but as I looked at her in the interview room, the walls of which were adorned with children’s pictures, I detected nothing of the sort. In fact, she appeared to be the exact opposite.
Hailing from a village close to the city of Sukabumi, West Java province, Ira seemed to fit the Javanese stereotype perfectly (the Javanese are the largest of Indonesia’s ethnic groups, comprising 40 percent of the archipelago’s 250 million people). She was calm and painfully polite. She had a voice so quiet and fragile I feared it would snap under the awkward weight of the questions I would ask. Then she had the trademark Javanese smile, emotionless, revealing nothing at all of the harrowing experience she had been subjected to just a few months earlier. Ira had been a victim of human trafficking, a crime that pervades Indonesia.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of…coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power…for the purpose of exploitation.” Child trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation”.
A common perception of the crime is that it is something that takes place across borders, involving shadowy international crime syndicates that seize victims and then transport them to other countries where they are effectively enslaved. In fact, this is only half of the picture.
The other half is trafficking that takes place within borders, where victims are ensnared by the familiar, recruited by their families, friends, neighbors – even their peers at school – and then trafficked to another part of the country where they are exploited. In Indonesia, this type of trafficking is a serious threat to human security.
In her short life, 15-year-old-Ira told me she had been trafficked twice – the first time by her neighbor, the second – shockingly – by her own husband.
The neighbor was a broker for a recruitment agency. He offered her a job in Jakarta as a babysitter for US$50 per month. Her parents, needing the money, thought she should go to help the family.
But upon arrival in Jakarta, Ira was deceived. The terms of her employment had changed. She was to be a full time domestic worker, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the employer’s children. She found the job tiring, with little sleep and with a salary half what she had been promised. She wanted to return home, but her employer refused – she could only return when she had repaid the fee her employer had given the broker for her services.
Trapped in debt bondage, Ira was forced to stay in Jakarta until she could pay off her employer, a situation that would expose her to the dangers of city life and lead to her second, more harrowing trafficking experience.
While paying her debt, she met and married a man in the local neighborhood. Once the debt had been paid, she returned with him to her village in Sukabumi to meet her family. Her husband soon insisted they return to Jakarta to live, which they did, but upon their return, her husband began to take her to bars and nightclubs, where he offered her to potential customers for sex – at a price.