Numbered days: A government officer checks the identity card of a sex worker at Dolly, Surabaya's red light district in this December file photo. (Antara)
Last year’s plan by Surabaya’s municipal administration to close down Dolly, one of the most notorious red-light districts in Southeast Asia, has yet to make any progress due to the concerns of those affected.
Prostitutes, pimps and other people involved in commercial-sex related businesses argued that closure was not a solution. They also expressed fears a shutdown would lead to uncontrolled prostitution with all its negative consequences.
As the fate of Dolly remained in limbo, however, East Java Governor Soekarwo last week announced that his administration planned to close down all the 47 red-light districts spread across the province’s 33 regencies and municipalities by next year, or before the end of his term in 2014 at the latest. He also said an unlimited budget would be allocated to realize the plan.
“The sooner they are all closed down the better. Morality programs need to be prioritized,” he said, revealing his plan over the weekend.
Soekarwo said his administration did not tolerate immoral acts, thus relocation would not be an option in dealing with prostitution. All prostitutes would be sent home after being given appropriate life-skills training.
“The provincial administration will give them Rp 3 million [US$330] each to start a new life in their respective home villages,” he said.
In this, he added, the administration would cooperate with the East Java branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which had for the last few years been running a program called the Association of Preachers for Red-Light Districts (Ideal), a local movement involving ulema and other elements of the community.
Chairman of the association, Abdussomad Buchori, said on Tuesday, that Ideal was tasked with encouraging prostitutes and other inhabitants of the red-light districts to get out of the commercial-sex business.
“We give them religious instruction while the administration provides them with skills and funding for a new life,” Abdussomad said.
He added that the program had been successful in its pilot project at the Dupak Bangunsari red-light district in Surabaya, which was even bigger than Dolly in terms of the number of prostitutes operating in the complex. Dupak previously accommodated some 2,700 prostitutes but now only had 127 left, most of whom were older women.
The success was also attributed to the participation of other local groups including the Surabaya community organization, Forkemas, which had been applying the same approach to prostitutes in Dolly.
Siti Fatimah, 45, the former owner of the biggest brothel in Dupak Bangunsari, even went on pilgrimage to Mecca after quitting her old profession. She sent all her former prostitutes home for a new life and now runs a food store.
Provincial councillor Kuswiyanto welcomed the administration’s plan but warned that the strategy used must be clearly thought through. “We need to talk to all the stakeholders, especially those in the commercial-sex business,” he said.