September 26, 2023
JAKARTA – Activists and members of humanitarian organizations pointed out government shortcomings in tackling human trafficking during a seminar on Friday night, saying that more needs to be done.
The seminar, which was held in South Jakarta and was themed “Justice and Mercy: Uniting to Eradicate Human Trafficking”, was organized by the Rumah Hati Suci orphanage and the Women Gospel Community. There were three keynote speakers: Mia Marina from NGO Integritas Justitia Madani Indonesia, Irena Handayani from Talitha Kum Indonesia, an organization of Catholic nuns fighting against human trafficking and Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus, a priest and human rights activist in Batam, Riau Islands province who is better known as Romo Paschal.
Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati, better known as Bintang Puspayoga, also participated in the event. She opened the seminar with a speech focusing on the current state of human trafficking in Indonesia.
“Indonesia has the greatest number of victims of human trafficking in Southeast Asia. And yet, when we look at the cases, we only see the tip of the iceberg. There are many other cases that likely go unreported,” she said.
The urgent need to act prompted the government, acting on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s instructions, to overhaul a human trafficking task force in June to scale up its efforts to stop exploitation and to protect vulnerable job seekers. The changes include transferring the task force’s leadership from Bintang to the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim), because the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry did not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations into human trafficking cases.
This reflected the government’s “strong commitment to ending human trafficking”, Bintang said. “But it cannot be done alone without the help of the public. These kinds of communities [like the one formed by the seminar] are important so that we can work together.”
Since taking over the task force, the police have named over 900 suspects of human trafficking and rescued 2,425 victims as of August. More than half of the victims were tricked into becoming illegal migrant workers, while others were forced into sex work and some were lured into working illegally overseas even though they were below the legal working age.
But Romo Paschal said the police barely scratched the surface.
“The arrests are sporadic. The worst part is that the big players are not caught; they can just freely escape to another country,” he said during the seminar, sharing stories of victims he knew and visited in Riau.
Paschal was known for informing the central government in January that an official of the Riau office of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) had allegedly been backing the illegal trafficking of migrant workers.
Several audience members, who hailed from Sumba Island in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), Manado in Sulawesi and parts of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) said on Friday night that they have seen how the traffickers are well organized, alleging that they have accomplices everywhere, including at the grassroots level.
“The way I see it, the government’s campaign is more of a symbolic gesture than a real effort to root out human trafficking at the grassroots level,” an audience member from West Nusa Tenggara said.
Irena of Talitha Kum spoke of the need to distribute information regarding the prevalence of human trafficking and the methods used to lure victims.
“Dissemination of information is a way to prevent people from falling victim to human traffickers,” Irena said. She later presented victims onstage who were tricked into forced labor from their lack of awareness.
Mia of Integritas Justitia Madani Indonesia said that because of ignorance, people easily fall into trafficking schemes through online scams, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic when people lost their jobs.
“Even college graduates and entrepreneurs have fallen victim to the scams,” Mia said.
Data from the 2023 Global Slavery Index, released by Walk Free, an Australian-based Organization advocating the eradication of modern slavery, estimates that more than 1.8 million Indonesians were victims of human trafficking in 2021.