As a developing country saddled with huge foreign debts, Indonesia's tourism industry is a much needed source of income.
But along with holidaymakers and honeymooners have come child sex tourists, a problem the government often turns a blind eye to.
""What really matters to the government is just collecting foreign exchange income from the lucrative tourism industry to lift up our economy, but it pays little attention to many of its consequences, including child sex tourism,"" said Ida Ayu Agung Mas, a prominent Balinese women's activist and member of the House of Representatives.
In Bali, Batam in the Riau Islands and West Nusa Tenggara, poverty, along with a lack of education and employment opportunities, pushes children into sexual exploitation, she said.
The children of impoverished families are soft targets for sexual predators, who promise them financial assistance.
""More access to education and employment will prevent youngsters from entering the sex trade,"" she said.
Anneka Farrington from Child Wise Australia, a non-profit organization funded by AusAid, urged Indonesia to improve its legal system's handling of child exploitation cases to prevent sexual offenders from escaping the law.
She said Australia had enforced an extraterritorial child exploitation law in 1994. Under the law, any Australian citizen found guilty of sex offenses against a minor in any country will face heavy punishment, and those who have evaded prosecution overseas will face it in Australia. A total of 23 cases have been processed since the law's enactment.
She added that Singapore had recently imposed a similar law. Upon its announcement, it was reported that there was a slight increase in tourists traveling from Batam Island in Indonesia to Singapore and vice versa. The number of guests at Batam's bars and restaurants has dropped almost 50 percent since.
Australia, Britain and Canada, along with several other countries, have promised to share information on child sex offenders traveling to Indonesia and other countries.
Britain provides background information, bios and photographs of offenders through a web site.
To track the on-line activities of child sex predators, Microsoft has worked with the Indonesian and Canadian police to develop special software to deal with online child exploitation.
""This will be a huge step for world government, law enforcers and the information technology industry to jointly combat this serious crime,"" said Katharine Bolstick, senior director of Microsoft's Legal Department in Asia and Greater China.
Using the software, police and experts can easily share data and information on every on-line action against children. ""The world of sex offenders will become so narrow both in the real and cyber worlds. Legal enforcers will hunt them wherever they are,"" Bolstick said.
State Minister for Women's Empowerment Mutia Hatta Swasono has reminded the government and related agencies of the implementation of plans to establish two pilot projects for child sex tourism-free zones in Bali and Batam Islands in 2003. A special task force handling child exploitation was established in 2003, but its reports were never published.
Indonesia has also ratified the United Nation's Convention on Child Protection and has a strong Law on Child Protection. Indonesian children are all entitled to protection against any form of exploitation. The reality on the ground, however, is far from the ideals set forth in legalese. -- Rita A. Widiadana and Wasti Atmodjo