Illegal logging trade forces jungle brothel in Indonesia
Marianne Kearney, foreign correspondent
Last Updated: May 24. 2008 5:39PM UAE / May 24. 2008 1:39PM GMT
Sex workers in the logging camps are paid as little as Dh118 a month, living in thatch huts or tents made of plastic. AP
JAKARTA // The illegal logging destroying Indonesia’s tropical forests is fuelling another illicit trade: the trafficking of girls as sex slaves.Girls as young as 13 are being lured from their homes with promises of employment as waitresses or maids, and then pressed into servicing loggers, their bosses and forestry officials deep within the jungles of West Kalimantan, on Indonesia’s side of Borneo island.
Maria, a child’s rights activist, stumbled upon the jungle brothel during a trip to West Kalimantan to rescue teenagers in illegal gold mines.The girls, many of them between 13 and 17, had been trafficked from within West Kalimantan, or Indonesia’s main island of Java, 920km away, she said.
“If they want to run, they’re in the middle of the forest, living beside a river, which is too deep and dangerous to swim,” said Maria, who asked that her real name not be used for fear of being tracked down by the traffickers.
The girls were paid as little as 300,000 rupiah per month (Dh118), and forced to live in appalling conditions, she said.
“They didn’t even have simple houses; they were living in huts or just tents made of plastic, with thatch roofs. There were no facilities for them,” Maria said.With high unemployment levels and low education, many village girls in Indonesia jump at any offers to work overseas or in other cities, particularly because salaries in foreign countries are higher.
Last year about 4.3 million people, mostly women, left Indonesia for Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Middle East to work as maids or sometimes as nurses, collectively bringing home US$13 billion.
But a percentage are underage girls who are offered jobs as restaurant or shop workers or maids, are either forced to become prostitutes or exploited by their employers, either underpaid, or overworked.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which runs counter trafficking programmes across Indonesia, says it has assisted 3,000 trafficking victims since 2005. “This really was trafficking; they were tricked into this,” Maria said. The brothel-bar was within a camp where there were hundreds of teenage boys either working in the illegal gold mines or illegal logging in the resource-rich island.
After returning from the camp, Maria said, she alerted local and national police, but that little had been done. Maria said it was too dangerous for her to return to the camp. She has received several threats against her life and has been given police protection back in the capital, Jakarta.
Ilyas Roostien, the Jakarta-based head of Peduli Anak, a non-governmental organisation for street children, accused police and government officials in the province of being entangled in the illegal businesses. “The police and military and government officials were customers there too,” Ms Roostien said.
After a local television station reported on the jungle brothel, some girls were moved to another location, while some families were able to rescue their daughters, a local journalist and Maria said. “Some of the girls have been freed, but some are still detained,” said Abdurrahman, the head of Ketapang village where the camp is located, and who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
Mr Abdurrahman said he suspected local police were taking a cut of the camp’s earnings in exchange for turning a blind eye to the mining and logging activities, as well as the brothel.
One girl who tried to escape through the forest last year was raped by a police officer, he said.Frustrated with the response from local police, Ms Roostien reported the case to Indonesia’s national police. However, police focused on the environmental destruction, launching a massive illegal logging investigation in which several high-level police officers and forestry officials were arrested, and timber worth US$24 million (Dh88m) destined for Malaysia, China and Taiwan discovered.
“Illegal logging is more important to the police, than the rights of these children,” she said.
Police from the anti-trafficking unit in Jakarta said had opened an investigation into the case, but they had to wait for a report from the local police first. So far, no report has been produced. The government’s social welfare department in Jakarta said it wanted to help the girls but was refused permission by provincial officials.
Illegal logging is rampant in Indonesia, with environmentalists warning that the last of the some of the world’s most bio-diverse tropical forests could be destroyed within a decade. Wahli, an Indonesian environmental group, estimates that every minute, primary forest equivalent to seven football pitches is destroyed in Indonesia. The trend of trafficking girls to service loggers, the police and politicians paid to ignore the logging, is not a new phenomenon, but it appears to be growing.
A government official in Pontianak, the provincial capital in West Kalimantan, tasked with assisting trafficking victims, said there had been several cases of illegal logging, and even legal logging, fuelling trafficking.
“There’s logging mafia, and they keep moving around logging different forests, and each time they move the places for sex workers too,” said Nur Aini, head of the government child protection unit in the province’s social welfare department.
Telepak, an environment group, which investigates the illegal logging business, said girls often were trafficked into illegal logging camps.“In one place we found a group of women who had been offered work as maids but they were tricked,” said Hari Gunawan. “Because the logging location is so isolated, they depend on the loggers to escape, so they can’t get away.”