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In Indonesia: On the Front Lines of the War Against Trafficking in Persons

March 28, 2007

Southeast Asia is home to beautiful beaches, rich cultural traditions, and one of the most reprehensible practices in the modern day ” trafficking in persons.

Indonesia has between 3-8 million workers abroad and most of them are undocumented, although no statistics are available on numbers of domestic migrant workers. Recognizing the seriousness of this issue, Indonesia’s parliament issued on March 13th one of the strongest and most progressive laws against trafficking in persons on the books in Asia.

In the new anti-trafficking law, trafficking is defined according to international standards, which criminalizes both cross-border and internal trafficking. In addition, sexual exploitation and debt bondage are also clearly defined, which will allow for strong enforcement. The members of Indonesia’s parliament were particularly concerned that traffickers not be given any loophole enabling them to escape prosecution.

However, the legislation has some potential weaknesses

First, all government services for protection and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking are contingent upon victims reporting the case to the police. Many victims of trafficking are very reluctant to do so as they fear retribution by the traffickers or, in some cases, because they have been involved in illegal activity as well.

Second, anti-trafficking activists in Indonesia are concerned about developing implementation regulations, which are a key element in whether a law is implemented effectively. This process will be led by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, and it will have to build consensus amongst law enforcement agencies and health and social service providers, to ensure that these regulations are unanimous and practical. In the past, Indonesian reformers have been disappointed when excellent laws, like the Anti Domestic Violence Law of 2004, were rendered essentially ineffective because they lacked strong implementing regulations.

But, there is a reason to be optimistic that this new legislation will be effective: the participatory process in drafting the Anti Trafficking Law was open to the public. In effect, the National Parliament’s Special Committee opened a window for strong public participation and oversight of the drafting of implementing regulations — which bodes well for sound and enforceable regulations. Indonesia deserves credit for passing an extremely progressive, important weapon in the fight against trafficking in persons.

Robin Bush is The Asia Foundation’s Deputy Country Representative in Indonesia; Hana Satriyo is Director of The Asia Foundation’s Gender and Women’s Participation Program in Indonesia.

View all posts by Hana A. Satriyo | Bio

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