He walks into the terrace house with a red face, and lowered head. He shakes hands and sits on the floor cross-legged. His head bowed down, staring at the floor at the Safe House for the Children in East Jakarta. In his 16 years Castro (pseudo name) has lived a life that many of us know nothing about. He spent four months this year being trafficked as a child prostitute.
He sits in silence. The sounds of the throaty croaking of frogs and the pat, pat, pat of raindrops falling on the rooftop fill the room.
A moment later, another boy in a blue navy sweater and chino jeans comes in. He’s followed by the housekeeper Zainal, who says, “He doesn’t want to be interviewed alone.” Brian (pseudo name) wants to join Castro for the interview.
Brian sits beside Castro, straightens his short black hair, and smiles broadly and shakes hands. Brian is 17-years old and has known Castro for more than 12 years.
“You are lucky. You are the first [of who] is able to interview them,” said Zainal.
The boys look at each other, smile and Brian begins to joke around without say anything. Castro brightens and begins joking with him. Together they tell their story that involves tragedy, poverty, and exploitation.
Brian and Castro have made the Safe House for Children at Bambu Apus, in East Jakarta. Police brought them here after they were rescued in a police raid on a child prostitution ring in Bogor (30/8) that involved 148 boys.
The National Police’s Criminal Investigation (Bareskrim) arrested three pimps who are accused of selling the boys to men through social media.
The suspects could face multiple charges under article No. 11/2008 on Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law, Law no. 44/2008 on Pornography, and Law no. 21/2007 on Combating Human Trafficking.
Erlinda, a commissioner from the Indonesia Child Protection Commission (KPAI) said that underage male prostitution in Indonesia is increasing every year. KPAI says in 2016, 300 to 400 boys reported they had been sold for sex.
Erlinda said child pornography and cyber crime reports during January – October 2016 recorded 414 victims. The numbers are higher especially when it comes to trafficking underage males for prostitution. She stated many victims don’t want to report to the KPAI.
Pribudiarta Sitepu a Deputy of Child Protection of The Ministry of Woman’s Empowerment and Children Protection said sexual abuse against boys is higher than the girls. “SKTA (the survey of violence against children) reported 1 of 12 boys, and 1 of 19 girls got sexually abused.”
Authorities say young males are more vulnerable to exploitation. “Because the perpetrator assumes the boy is strong, masculine and will not tell to his parents,” Sitepu added.
A Study by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purpose (ECPAT) reported children from broken families were much more vulnerable to online sexual abuse that those from non-broken families. If the children could not find happiness and comfort at home, they would look for it outside.
Brian and Castro came from the same town in Nias, North Sumatra. They were just four and five years old when the tsunami swept Nias in 2004 and their lives changed. After the disaster, their parents were living in misery and could not take care of them. So they were adopted by Maranatha Orphanage, Bogor, with many other children.
The boys had free education and lived in the orphanage for 10 years, but two years ago they ran away before finishing the orphanage program. They were bored and wanted freedom.
Esti (pseudo name) a worker at the orphanage said “they’ve got a problem in the school [being] disobedient to orphanage’s rules.”
The orphanage tried to persuade them to come back to the dorm,but the boys could not be found. The boys, who at the time had been 14 and 16 years old, rented a small house in Bogor. They were jobless, alone and vulnerable.
Brian recalls how an older man named Rico befriended them. He flashed money and introduced them to the world of illegal boys sexual exploitation. . Brian said Rico lied to him. “Rico said if you want a job, come to his boarding. When I visit[ed] his boarding, he coerced me to please him. That was not a job that I expected.”
“You don’t need to work hard. Just work one day [and] you can earn more money than the salary of the common people who work hard,” Castro added.
Besides that, they said Rico often treated Brian and Castro to snacks or drinks.
“When you’ve already been lured in, it is hard to get out,” Castro said.
They need money to pay rent for the house and their living costs.
“Honestly, I feel strange and uncomfortable around them, but it is all about money,” said Brian.
Since they were under 18 years-old, the boys could fetch a better price than adult men. Customers paid between Rp 1.000.000 (75$) to Rp 1.500.000 (113$). Castro and Brian say they earned around Rp 100.000 (8$) to Rp 1.000.000 (75$), normally about Rp 500.000 (38$).
“The highest amount that I received was Rp 1.000.000 (75$), depends on the tip from the guest,” said Brian.
Their pimp, Rico had experience in prostitution business. Rico had already been arrested for online prostitution involving girls. He was sentenced to three years for human trafficking and after serving a two-and-half year in prison was released on 24 November 2015.
With his huge circle of contacts in sex prostitution, he went to work and set up a sex trafficking business involving boys.
To promote the boys, they were required to submit a biography that included their name, age, and a photo. “He asked us to take a picture topless,” said Brian.
After that, he invited the children to his community called RCM (Rico Ceper Management) and added them to his Facebook group, Berondong Bogor.
The boys said Rico used social media, such as Facebook, BBM Messenger, and a gay mobile application to get customers in cities, such as Jakarta, Bandung, and Banten. Besides that, Rico also had a foreign customer such as; Malaysian and Singaporean.
“Sometimes, I went to Jakarta, and sometimes they came to Bogor. Mostly, the customers are from Jakarta. We usually meet in Tebet, South Jakarta,” said Brian. “They provide all transportation and a hotel.”
Almost the customers were adults with good a profession such as police, manager, doctor, and etc. “Most (customers) are adults that are already married – have a wife and family,” Castro said.
Ahmad Sofian, the coordinator of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purpose (ECPAT) acknowledged that the customers could be considered ‘classy’ men with money. “There are adults over their 30’s that have position (good job).”
Erlinda said child sex abuse in Indonesia is considered an extraordinary crime along with narcotics and terrorism because it corrupts mindset of the children about norms of life. “The wrong of thinking, bad behavior, anti-social, and assume sex with underage or same-sex is normal.”
The Indonesian government supports severe punishments against the perpetrator of child sexual abuse including forced chemical castration or the death penalty. It believes a strong penalty is the only way to stop the child sex abuse.
Recently, the death penalty was imposed on two cases of child sexual abuse in West Jakarta and Bengkulu. This proves that strong state stance against child sex abuse.
Another side to of this story is rehabilitation for the abused children. Erlinda says the victim must get comprehensive rehabilitation for trauma recovery. If they don’t get rehabilitation, the victim might be a perpetrator of child sex abuse.
“[Of] around 70-80 percent of [victims] who do not recieve comprehensive rehabilitation, during [their first] couple months can be[come] a perpetrator or have a personality similar to the perpetrator,” said Erlinda.
Brian and Castro spend their days at the Safe House for Child managed by the Ministry of Social to get rehabilitation under expert surveillance along with the vocational skills to re-enter society.
When they complete their rehabilitation in December, Brian and Castro want to start a new life with their family. “I want [to go] back to Nias – we still have our parents there. We[‘ve] already [been] living here (Bogor) for 12 years,” Brian said.
Neneng Heryani head of Safe House PSMP Handayani said the progress of Brian and Castro is good. They are learning screen printing and have a good attitude.
“However, living with [their] family is the best rehabilitation for children,” said Neneng.
Neneng said it was hard to find their families in Nias because the boys had not seen their parents for 12 years. They don’t remember the address or siblings. But, finally the team was found their parents after searching for four days.
“We will [be] going to Nias together, and returning Brian and Castro to their family on December 26 – 12 years after the Tsunami disaster,” Neneng added.
Farabi Ferdiansyah is a student at Ateneo de Manila University (The Philippines) studying a Masters of Journalism at the university’s Asian Centre for Journalism and Chairman of the Indonesia Youth Journalism Forum.