Apriadi Gunawan and Fadly, The Jakarta Post, Medan/Batam
Five underage women identified as IM, A, FY, E and W had no idea that they would be traded as prostitutes in a red light district in Dumai, Riau, when Romantan Sinaga alias Nico or Onces, and Andi Haryanto offered them a good job with a high salary during a coincidental meeting at the Aksara Medan Plaza in August.
Without considering any possible consequences, the five girls accepted the offer and went with the two brokers to Dumai. Upon their arrival in the Ria Wisata tourist resort in Bukit Kapur Subdistrict, Dumai, the two brokers traded the five girls to their would-be madam, Rina, at a price of Rp 800,000 (US$80) per person.
""The deal was done in front of them (the women),"" Ade Akhmad Ilyasak, chairman of the Indonesian Child Protection Institution (PPAI), told The Jakarta Post in Medan recently.
Ade, who helped the five women upon their arrival from Dumai recently, said they escaped the red light district after realizing that they were being abused.
He said that, along with a score of others, they were employed as prostitutes with earnings of between Rp 35,000 and Rp 90,000 promised for each client they serviced.
""Actually, during their employment as prostitutes they have never been paid,"" he said, adding that they bought their bus tickets with the tip money given by their clients.
Ade said police had legal complications arresting those employing women as prostitutes because their employees were obliged to make a legal statement that they did the job willingly.
Ade said the trade of underage women had become rife in North Sumatra because authorities have not imposed strict guidelines on venues such as pubs, bars and karaoke centers, which frequently offered prostitutes and call girls.
""The rampant prostitution trade has a lot to do with the high rate of unemployment in the province. Junior high school graduates who cannot afford to go to senior high school will seek any job that enables them to survive the economic crisis,"" he said.
He said that between January and June, 2001, PPIA had detected eleven underage women among trade cases involving 21 women.
""Of the 21 women, four were sold to Japan, two to Hong Kong, three to Malaysia and the remaining 14 were traded in this province and Riau,"" Ade said.
Ade called on local authorities to be more selective when issuing permits for recreation centers and venues.
""The trade of women would not be as serious as it is if local authorities banned prostitution at venues, launched a routine operation to crack down on prostitution and imposed stern sanctions against both venues offering prostitutes and on prostitutes themselves,"" he said.
Ade said he was deeply concerned with the absence of measures against the long presence of red light districts in Bandar Baru, Sibolangit, Deli Serdang Regency, Bukit Maradja in Simalungun Regency and Warung Bebek in Asahan Regency.
In Batam, Riau, bordering with Malaysia and Singapore, prostitution has also been rampant since the island was developed as an industrial zone and tourist destination.
Andre, secretary of the Down Mainstream Communication Forum, said prostitution on the island had become a complicated problem over the past decade.
""Many job seekers have worked as prostitutes at night spots, while many workers have done the same to seek additional income,"" he said, explaining that living costs on the island were double those in the country's other provinces.
Andre agreed, saying that the fast growth of the sex industry on the island had a lot to do with the absence of measures being taken by local authorities.
""Many massage and karaoke centers offer girls who are put in aquariums but no action has been taken,"" he said.
According to data at the local Ministry of Social Affairs office, the number of sex workers on the island has reached 5,000, who are employed in 60 entertainment centers and seven red light districts. At least 75 sex workers on the island have been infected with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).