The 2004 ruling against prostitution in Bekasi may have noble intentions but only targets sex workers while allowing pimps and clients get away.
An official in Bekasi responsible for combating the sex trade said the measure had still been effective in wiping out the "social disease" of prostitution.
"There can't be smoke without fire. Our job is to extinguish that fire," head of administration affairs of public order officials (Satpol PP) at the Bekasi municipality office, Aom Djamhur, told The Jakarta Post.
"We have always targeted prostitutes in our raids because in our opinion they are the origin of this social disease," he said.
Sex workers caught in raids, mostly female, are brought to three social rehabilitation centers in East Jakarta, Sukabumi and Cirebon which are managed by the Social Affairs Ministry.
The centers run classes in sewing and beauty styling for around three to four months so those involved in the sex trade can increase skills and widen their employment opportunities.
"Our main goal is to discourage them from returning to prostitution," he said.
While supporting the idea behind the programs, Aom could not definitively say whether or not they were effective in combating prostitution from recurring in particular areas.
"We have no real evaluation process with the centers. After we take prostitutes there, it is their (the centers') business, not ours anymore. What's important is we have cleaned up our area," he said.
However, chairwoman of local NGO Bandung Wangi and an advocate for sex workers in East Jakarta for almost a decade, Anna Sulikah, said whenever a raid was conducted sex workers only had to pay police between Rp 200,000 and Rp 500,000 to be released from detention.
"It is common practice everywhere," Anna said.
"If the worker fails to pay the sum at the police station, they are brought to rehab centers in Cipayung and Pasar Rebo in East Jakarta or Kedoya in West Jakarta.
"At the centers, there are brokers who can pay around Rp 1 million to get a worker out and back on the street," she said.
"The raids are nothing more than an income source for public order officers."
Last month, the public order office recorded there were 82 sex workers in South, West and East Bekasi. In the same area there are officially 95 stalls offering food and sex workers, locally known as warung remang or dim-lighted stalls, and around 300 massage parlors and karaoke spots, also key spots for the sex trade.
Aom said the figures were lower than in previous months, when up to 200 sex workers were recorded by the office.
Rustandi, a public order official, said the office rarely caught the pimps or clients because "we conduct raids on the streets, not in the hotels or wherever they have (sexual transactions).
"Besides, the clients are not mentioned in the (2004) ordinance on prostitution," he said.
Article 2 of the ordinance states that both the sex worker and those offering the facilities for prostitution, namely pimps, should receive a maximum penalty of three months imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 5 million. There is no specific mention of clients warranting punishment.
"Prostitutes usually say they operate individually, and we believe that," said Rustandi.
Article 296 of the Criminal Code stipulates the penalties "for those who because of their profession or habit, facilitate indecent acts ...", and Article 506 outlines the terms for those facilitating clientele for sexual transactions, but once more there is no reference to clients.
The light penalties stated in the Criminal Code, inherited from Dutch colonial rule, have prompted advocates of state sanctioned laws on morality to call for greater measures against prostitution and other morally related acts such as the porn law.
-- Agnes Winarti