Human Trafficking In Indonesia: The Difficult Road Home

This photo essay originally appeared on July 13, 2016 on Medium.

In Indonesia, human trafficking is a pressing problem. With over 32 million people living below the poverty line in this vast island nation, many thousands of Indonesians each year end up in working conditions indicative of trafficking. And once a trafficking victim returns home, the ordeal of being trapped in modern slavery is too often followed by a daunting personal struggle to put their life back together, according to new research by the NEXUS Institute, an independent human rights research and policy center based in Washington, D.C.

Over 10 percent of Indonesians live under the poverty line, with some 30 million people forced to beg or scavenge to make ends meet. Poverty and lack of opportunity may contribute to the risk of human trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Based on extensive interviews with almost 100 trafficking victims and over 100 anti-trafficking professionals and service providers in Indonesia, Going Home — Challenges in the Reintegration of Trafficking Victims in Indonesia details the uncertain and precarious path toward recovery and reintegration faced by many victims of human trafficking in Indonesia. Going Home is the first in a series of longitudinal studies by the NEXUS Institute about human trafficking and victim reintegration in Indonesia.

A woman recycles plastic bottles at a garbage dump in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

This research is the first longitudinal study on human trafficking conducted in Indonesia and one of only a few in the world. It offers a unique lens into the complex process of reintegration for victims after being trafficked, drawing on the firsthand accounts of a diverse group of trafficking victims,” said Stephen Warnath, President, CEO and Founder of NEXUS Institute. “These men and women shared their experiences with us and, in doing so, reveal stories of hope, determination, perseverance, courage, and resilience. Our report documents their experiences and introduces what support is available for reintegration of victims of human trafficking in Indonesia, and the constraints and obstacles victims face in accessing that support. The stories that emerge from our interviews are not unique. Listening to their voices and the lessons to be learned from them can benefit many countries around the world.”

Women in prostitution by the railroad tracks. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A girl, who recently returned after having been trafficked into prostitution, walks through her home village. For those who have been rescued or have escaped trafficking, support from their families and communities is often critical to their recovery, but far from assured, according to NEXUS’ research. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A number of government initiatives exist to assist returning trafficking victims. Indonesia’s Anti-Trafficking Law (Law 21/2007), for example, provides a right to healthcare, psychological support and counseling, temporary shelter and legal aid.

Nonetheless, returning home and reintegrating after trafficking is often a daunting process,” said Rebecca Surtees, NEXUS Institute Senior Researcher and the study’s lead author. “Many returning trafficking victims do not receive the assistance and support that they need to recover — despite existing legislation and support programs. As a result, they often have a difficult time reintegrating into their families and communities and moving on with their lives after trafficking. They often face on-going vulnerability.”

A man receives medical care in a community clinic in West Java. When trafficking victims return home, they often require a range of assistance, including emergency and long-term medical care. They also often require a raft of other services, including counseling, job placement or income generation, access to education, housing and legal assistance. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A policewoman outside a unit in West Java tasked with investigating crimes against women and children, including human trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Travelers at Jakarta’s main bus station. Reintegration is much more than only returning to one’s family. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Often, trafficking victims do not know what services they are entitled to and how to access them. Those who do receive assistance from the government or civil society do not always receive help that is tailored to their individual needs or adequately supports their efforts to reintegrate, according to the study.

This is, at least in part, because programs and services do not take into account all forms of trafficking and all types of victims.

In Indonesia, as in many countries, there is an assumption that most trafficking is for sexual exploitation,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Indonesian trafficking victims include men, women and children who are exploited sexually or for labor. Reintegration services and support need to be tailored to each individual victim’s unique and specific experience and assistance needs.”

A domestic worker employed in an Indonesian household. Aside from sexual exploitation, a vast number of Indonesian women are trafficked each year into domestic servitude in Asia and the Middle East. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man working in a factory in West Java. Many Indonesians are trafficked for different types of labor. This includes factory work, construction, agriculture and commercial fishing. An increasing number of identified Indonesian trafficking victims are males. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Workers and fishers in Jakarta’s port. Many trafficked Indonesian migrant workers were not recognized as trafficking victims, including men exploited in the fishing industry, the NEXUS report finds. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A fisherman in the waters off the port in Jakarta. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

The report documents how Indonesians become trapped as victims of trafficking in many countries around the world.

“Indonesians are trafficked within the country or exploited abroad, in neighboring Asian countries as well as further afield, including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America,” said Thaufiek Zulbahary, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report.

This map shows the various forms of exploitation and destination countries for respondents in the NEXUS report.

Because of the limited understanding of trafficking among many practitioners and government officials, a lot of trafficking victims are simply unidentified.

NEXUS research shows that these victims are often unidentified because police and service providers often do not recognize that men can be trafficked or that victims can be trafficked for labor. Victims themselves often do not understand that their experiences of exploitation while migrant workers are, in fact, the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor.

Nearly half of the trafficked persons in the NEXUS study were not formally identified and went unassisted, like this woman in a district of West Java. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

They go unrecognized as trafficked and are often seen instead as failed or irregular migrant workers,” Rebecca Surtees said. “Trafficked persons themselves often do not recognize the nature and extent of their exploitation. As a consequence, they go unassisted and struggle to recover from trafficking and reintegrate into their families and communities.”

Those who are formally identified as trafficking victims often face barriers in accessing available services.

There is often a lack of information about available reintegration assistance and trafficking victims do not know where to go or who to ask for support,” said Suarni Daeng Caya, NEXUS Researcher and co-author of the report. “Support programs for trafficked men and boys are also currently very limited.”

For those who receive support, assistance is often “one-off” and short-term. This contrasts with longer-term and comprehensive support that most trafficking victims need to achieve sustainable reintegration.

A woman at her vegetable stand in Jakarta. Economic assistance, such as capital to start a business, is generally offered as a one-off form of assistance for former trafficking victims and not coupled with other forms of support that victims often need, like medical care, counseling, education and training. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man running a small food business in his village. Food stalls are a common form of small business in Indonesia. Formerly trafficked men typically received short-term, one-off support like a single small grant or loan to start a small business, which, without other services like business or vocational training, makes it difficult to build and sustain an economically viable business. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Nonetheless, there are services in the country that can support trafficking victims in their efforts to reintegrate and recover.

“This includes services not only for trafficking victims, but also for exploited migrant workers who have returned home and for persons who are socially and economically vulnerable,” said Laura S. Johnson, NEXUS Researcher and report co-author. “Some programs and services — like access to education — are available to all Indonesian citizens.”

Among the report’s recommendations is that trafficking victims need to be supported in making greater use of services and programs that already exist to assist a wide range of beneficiaries, rather than to limit support solely to programs dedicated to assist those who have survived being trafficked. Trafficking victims are often eligible for this larger array of programs, but currently they are rarely able to access and obtain these programs’ services and support.

Others key recommendations are that reintegration services — which need to be long-term, comprehensive and provided by qualified professionals — should be made available to all types of trafficking victims (men, women, girls and boys) as well as victims of all forms of human trafficking. Service providers should work with individual victims to assess their needs and to design a plan for their reintegration; they should work with victims over time to implement and monitor their reintegration process.

While these stories, and the report that they are based upon, focus on Indonesia, these findings are relevant for many countries around the world.

“The experiences recounted by Indonesian trafficking victims mirror the experiences of trafficking victims shared with NEXUS researchers in many other places,” Stephen Warnath notes. “In most countries there is much more that can be done to provide critically needed support for the men, women and children who have escaped or been rescued from human trafficking. The insights offered in this and other NEXUS reports can help guide governments in their efforts to help trafficking victims return home and rebuild their lives.”

A small business in a trafficking-affected village in West Java. Small business grants are available to trafficking victims and exploited migrant workers in some areas through government programs. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A man and boy register for services at a local health clinic in West Java. Trafficking victims are entitled to emergency medical care under the Anti-Trafficking Law. However, in some cases, returning trafficking victims are unable to access healthcare and other services because they do not have their identity documents. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

A group of women stand outside their houses in a village in West Java. Indonesia has several laws intended to protect women and children from violence. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

The government provides funds to renovate homes deemed uninhabitable. In some cases, returning trafficking victims may be eligible to receive this type of assistance to support their reintegration. Still, millions of Indonesians live in very poor conditions. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

An elderly man begs on the street in a city in West Java. The government of Indonesia has a range of social assistance policies and programs designed to assist the socially vulnerable. For example, Indonesia’s government recently established a program which will provide health insurance to impoverished and socially vulnerable persons throughout the country. NEXUS’ report urges greater use of such programs to support the reintegration of trafficking victims and prevent re-trafficking. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Children in a village in West Java. In Indonesia, primary school education is free of charge. Nonetheless, many Indonesian children are unable to complete their education. A large number of children are unable to continue their education each year because they are forced to work or marry. Lack of education may make them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. Photo: Peter Biro for NEXUS Institute.

Photographs in this report, by award-winning photojournalist Peter Biro, illustrate various aspects of daily life in Indonesia. Unless stated otherwise, individuals in these photographs are not trafficking victims. All rights are reserved by the NEXUS Institute.

The NEXUS study, Going Home, was made possible through the support of the United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). The research was implemented in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection and the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs. Read the full report here. You can follow more of NEXUS Institute’s work atwww.NEXUSInstitute.net and @NEXUSInstitute.