[Stop-traffic] News/Indonesia: Sex trade flourishes on islands near puritanical, p...

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Indonesia: Sex trade flourishes on islands near puritanical, p...
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Nov 15 2000 - 09:10:14 EST

          Sex trade flourishes on islands near puritanical, p...

The Associated Press.

  Associated Press Writer
    TANJUNG PINANG, Indonesia (AP) -- From the mangrove swamps and jungles
of Indonesia's Riau Islands, Singapore's steel and glass skyscrapers are
visible on the horizon -- gleaming symbols of another nation's wealth.
    The islands draw thousands of Indonesians in search of jobs in
Singapore-backed factories and resorts. But many who come end up as
prostitutes in "brothel villages" hacked out of the jungle -- catering
mainly to sex tourists from Singapore.
    "My sister and I were tricked into coming here. I thought I was coming
to work in a disco as a waitress," said 18-year-old Egy, who said she was
forced into prostitution to pay off the syndicate that brought her to the
    Indonesia's hunger for development and Singapore's prosperity have
provided a potent formula for economic growth: the islands are dotted with
lavish resorts and industrial parks. But the combination has also created a
flourishing sex trade.
    The proximity of wealthy Singapore, just a 20-kilometre (12-mile) ferry
ride away, is a natural resource for the Riaus. The islands are far cheaper
and faster to reach for Singaporeans than more traditional sex tourism
destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines, which are frequented
more by Europeans and Americans.
    Two Riau islands known as Bintan and Batam, especially, have become
seedy escapes from Singapore's strict social confines -- and a dangerous
lure for Indonesians seeking a better life.
    "Weekdays, a lot of older men come here from Singapore. They tell their
wives they're on business -- or fishing," said Ian Zulpian, a tour guide in
Bintan Island's scruffy port town of Tanjung Pinang.
    Younger men flock down from Singapore on the weekends, he said.
    Bintan and Batam have a combined population of about 750,000 -- a figure
augmented by thousands of tourists and migrant workers arriving each week.
    Prostitution is technically illegal in most parts of the Riau Islands,
but authorities usually turn a blind eye to it. Some women enter the trade
on their own free will, but many others are trapped.
    Batam's rowdy main town Nagoya is filled with throbbing discos and
karaoke sing-along bars. Many have back rooms where dozens of women wearing
numbers sit on benches behind a one-way window, watching TV and waiting to
be chosen by clients and taken to hotels.
    Most of Batam's sex tourists are Singaporeans. But many from Malaysia,
South Korea and Taiwan often make short detours to the island during
holiday trips to Singapore, said Evan Jones, an Australian who owns a
restaurant in Nagoya.
    Many young women get trapped in the Riau Islands' sex trade by debts to
the organized crime rings and brothel owners who bring them in, said the
Rev. Felix Supranto, dean of the Riau Islands Catholic Church in Nagoya.
    "People say to the girls: 'What do you do in your village? You can come
with me to Batam, work in a factory, make big money.' They are clever,
sweet talkers," he said.
    In Bintan's "Kilometer 24" -- a village supported entirely by
prostitution -- an unmarked turnoff from the potholed, muddy main road
suddenly becomes a modern paved lane leading into the jungle.
    The lane is lined by about 100 tidy, colorful houses, each fronted by a
stand selling soft drinks, beer and snacks. When a vehicle enters the
village, hundreds of smiling and laughing young women rush out of the
houses and try to yank open the doors.
    Brothel owners and local authorities set up the village in 1992 to
contain Bintan's growing prostitution problem and keep it away from
ordinary towns on the mainly Muslim island.
    About half of the women in Kilometer 24 are conned into coming or bought
outright from their parents by syndicates, largely in Indonesia's West Java
region, said Bintan police chief Agus Setiyoko. The rest come on their own
seeking jobs, he said. Many of the women fall ever more deeply into debt
to the crime syndicates and brothel madams because they get to keep little
of the cash handed over by customers.
    Egy said that after her promised waitress job fell through, she owned 1
million Indonesian rupiah (dlrs 112) to a syndicate.
    Now her debt is 1.5 million rupiah (dlrs 168) -- five times the official
minimum monthly wage earned by many on the Riau islands -- and it keeps
growing as she struggles to pay 600,000 rupiah (dlrs 67) to her madam for
monthly room and board.

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