Child prostitutes big problem
in Jakarta

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

While other teenagers of her age are either strolling around the city's malls or sitting quietly at home, 15-year-old Kartika (not her real name) spends her nights with guests at a cafe in the capital.

Kartika, a newcomer to the commercial sex industry, who comes from Karawang, West Java, more often than not ends up in hotel rooms with clients.

According to Hery, an activist from the non-governmental organization Bangun Mitra Sejati (BMS), who has been trying to get her to quit the business, Kartika believes ""it is my body that I am selling, but not my soul.""

""Although what drives (people like Kartika) into prostitution is inarguably money, this is not the root of the problem for child sex workers,"" Hery said.

""Their families have the economic problems, not them. The children are vulnerable and have no other recourse for income,"" he said.

Activists define child sex workers as anyone under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex, which Hery cites as among the worst forms of labor in the world.

In Jakarta alone, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates more than 5,000 children are involved in prostitution.

The city has mapped six areas in which child prostitution occurs in a large numbers: Prumpung in North Jakarta, Grogol in West Jakarta, Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta, Jatinegara and Ciracas in East Jakarta and Blok M in South Jakarta.

""In terms of child prostitution or any kind of child labor, it does not matter whether the number is small or large,"" Hery said. ""We have to realize that these children should not be there.""

Hery, who works with three other volunteers in BMS, estimates that more than 800 children between 12 and 18 are forced into prostitution in cafes, hotels and warung kopi (traditional coffee shops) in East Jakarta alone.

The children are either sold by their parents to cafe owners, or lured to Jakarta by third parties known as calo.

ILO research shows that almost 70 percent of the children found their way into prostitution with the ""help"" of their closest relatives or friends.

""Some are victims of child trafficking, but there are many who have their parents visiting them in the cafes regularly,"" he said. The children come from poor areas in West Java like Subang, Sukabumi, Indramayu and Karawang.

""They often have psycho-social problems that are much more difficult to overcome than the economic ones,"" he said.

Kartika showed symptoms of multiple personality. ""She has positioned herself into two identities, the Kartika who sells her body and the Kartika who still prays regularly every day,"" said Hery.

Kartika, who looks no different than any ordinary country girl, works 24/7 and receives only 40 percent of the Rp 300,000 to Rp 600,000 booking fees that her boss takes in.

""They claim to earn some Rp 2 million a month, but in fact a lot of them are making less than that because their income is cut by the germo (pimp),"" Hery said.

In a study conducted by ILO on 12 child prostitutes, more than 70 percent of them worked more than eight hours a day.

These children are highly prone to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, physical as well as mental abuse and often end up continuing to sell their bodies after they grow up.

BMS and Bandungwangi, another NGO helping child prostitutes in Prumpung, are two organizations in the capital trying to rehabilitate child prostitutes.

""We are trying to build up their self-awareness, sit down together to plan their future and later give them vocational training,"" BMS director Anni said. ""This difficult project will be scaled up later.""

""We see a difference in their eyes as they slowly convince themselves to quit and seek other opportunities,"" Hery said.

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