Village heads take on human traffickers in rural Indonesia

Beh Lih Yi

KEBONPEDES, Indonesia, April 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

- I n Saepudin's village of Kebonpedes on Indonesia's Java

island, it is so common for women to leave to work as domestic

helpers abroad that one local neighbourhood is dubbed the

"Jeddah block".

It has earned the nickname because 80 percent of the women

living there have taken up jobs as maids in Saudi Arabia, one of

the major destinations for Indonesian domestic helpers besides

Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Indonesia has prohibited its citizens from travelling to the

Middle East to work as maids since 2015 after cases of abuse,

but traffickers still target women and continue to find ways

around the ban to meet soaring demand in the region.

Indonesian women had said they were beaten up, sexually

abused by their employers and often had their pay withheld.

Under a new pilot project, village heads like Saepudin in

rural Indonesia - where most of the women are recruited - have

been empowered to take on human traffickers in a bid to crack

down on the illegal practices.

"(The recruiters) make all sort of false promises. We keep

seeing cases of our women being abused, beaten up and not

getting paid," Saepudin, who like many Indonesians goes by one

name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Kebonpedes.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) project

involves 13 villages in the Sukabumi district. The area has been

frequently targeted by traffickers and saw 4,000 cases of maids

having been recruited to go to the Middle East last year.

The U.N. migration agency works with the villages to

formulate local laws to counter the illegal practice, and train

officials to prevent residents from falling prey to traffickers.

Heavy decentralisation of power in the Indonesian

archipelago has granted local authorities a degree of autonomy

in drawing up their own regulations.

A key part of the programme is educating village heads about

how to spot women who might become trafficking victims.

Indonesians who plan to work overseas need to obtain

permission from their village chiefs before travelling, and

Saepudin said he now questions the women about where they are

planning to go and who recruited them.

"If they fail to give a satisfactory answer or show the

necessary documents, I will refuse to sign the consent letter,"

he explained.

Some of the laws that villages have introduced to combat

traffickers include making recruiters report to local chiefs,

and making it illegal to lie to women when they are being

persuaded to go abroad.

"Local leaders are often unaware of the prevalence of human

trafficking in their areas," IOM Indonesia spokesman Paul Dillon

said.

"Now they're coming around to understand how destabilising

it can be for an entire community when its young women and men

return broken from their experiences overseas."

Officials said they were hopeful the project would help

raise awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, and

encourage more villagers to come forward to report the crime.

"Trafficking in persons often begins with unscrupulous

recruitment," Sujatmiko, a senior official from the Coordinating

Ministry of Human Development and Cultural Affairs, said in a

statement.

The initiative is expected to be introduced in the East Nusa

Tenggara province later this year, one of the major areas for

maid recruitment.

Maids make up more than a third of the 6 million Indonesians

working abroad.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell;

Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm

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