According to estimates, around 5,000 children, most of them girls, in Jakarta are being sexually exploited today, rights activists said over the weekend.
Even worse, the activists added, some girls had been forced to perform sexual acts by their parents of close friends.
"Some of the children who are now under our assistance are between the ages of 14 and 17. They said they were forced to become sex workers after they left school due to financial problems," Anna Sulika of Bandung Wangi Foundation, which assists more than 200 underage sex workers in East and North Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
She said most of the underage sex workers who sought protection worked as waitresses at night clubs or cafes. After working hours they prostitute themselves.
"We found this in many places, particularly in North Jakarta," she added.
Established in 1999, Bandung Wangi Foundation was aimed at giving both additional life skills and legal assistance to underage sex workers or child victims of sexual abuse.
The foundation has built its shelters on the outskirts of Jakarta, such as in Pisangan, East Jakarta, and Tanjung Priok in North Jakarta, where they conduct additional life skill courses for underage sex workers.
Ahmad Sofian, national coordinator for the movement against the sexual exploitation of children, said many of these underage sex workers come from regions like Jakarta, Indramayu in West Java and several other regions along the north coast of Java.
"Most of them were coming with motivations to help alleviate their parents from financial problems. Some of them admit that they were being set up by close friends or ex-boyfriends to become prostitutes," he said recently.
He said besides those who decided to quit school and start working as underage prostitutes, there were still many youngsters who stayed in school, while operating as sex workers.
"These schoolgirls usually work for pimps who take orders through cellular phones," he said.
In most schoolgirl cases, financial hardship was not the main motive for the girls.
"When we interviewed these underage sex workers, we found financial hardship was not the sole motivation. In fact, it turns out that more teenagers become underage sex workers because they are attracted to consumerism," Ahmad added.
"It is their desire to own popular cellular phones, or maybe laptops and apparel that draws them into this kind of world."
Ahmad said his organization estimated 150,000 children were being exploited around the country today.
"Different types of exploitation applies here. In cities like Jakarta, Medan and Surabaya, we find that most of them are working as prostitutes, while in Bali, we find victims of pedophilia," he said.
He said that up to this date there was no legal protection potent enough to reduce the number of cases. He said he doubted the newly passed anti-pornography law would protect these children from sexual exploitation and abuse.
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