As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Indonesia and exploit victims from Indonesia abroad. Each of Indonesia’s 34 provinces is a source and destination of trafficking. The government estimates that more than two million of the six to eight million Indonesians working abroad—many of whom are women working in the domestic sector—are undocumented or have overstayed their visas, increasing their risk to trafficking; the true number of undocumented Indonesian workers is likely much higher. During the reporting period, nearly 200,000 of the documented Indonesian migrant workers returned to Indonesia due to the pandemic. Labor traffickers exploit many Indonesians through force and debt-based coercion in Asia (particularly China, South Korea, and Singapore) and the Middle East (in particular Saudi Arabia) primarily in domestic work, factories, construction, and manufacturing, on Malaysian oil palm plantations, and on fishing vessels throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Indonesian women are exploited in forced labor in Syria. Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Middle East host many Indonesian domestic workers who are unprotected under local labor laws and often experience indicators of trafficking, including excessive working hours, lack of formal contracts, and unpaid wages. Many of these workers come from the province of East Nusa Tenggara. NGOs estimate unscrupulous labor recruitment agents and sub-agents are responsible for more than half of Indonesian female trafficking cases overseas. To migrate overseas, workers often assume debt that both Indonesian and overseas recruitment agents exploit to coerce and retain their labor. Additionally, some companies withhold identity documents and use threats of violence to keep migrants in forced labor. Sex traffickers exploit Indonesian women and girls primarily in Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Middle East. Some for-profit universities in Taiwan aggressively recruit Indonesians and subsequently place them into exploitative labor conditions under the pretense of educational opportunities. These students are often unaware of the work component prior to arrival and reportedly experience contract switching, prohibitive working hours, and poor living conditions contrary to their original agreements. Fraudulent recruitment agencies have sent at least 100 Indonesians to Taiwan under the guise of university scholarships where, upon arrival, they were forced to work at an iron foundry to repay a “loan” for alleged schooling fees.
In Indonesia, labor traffickers exploit women, men, and children in fishing, fish processing, and construction; on oil palm and other plantations; and in mining and manufacturing. Traffickers exploit women and girls in forced labor in domestic service. Traffickers may subject children to forced criminality in the production, sale, and transportation of illicit drugs. Government regulations allow employers in certain sectors, including small and medium enterprises and such labor-intensive industries as textile manufacturing, an exemption from minimum wage requirements, thereby increasing the risk of workers in those sectors to debt-based coercion. More than 1.5 million Indonesian children between 10 and 17 years old work in agriculture, including on tobacco plantations, without gear to protect them from the sun and chemicals; working without proper protective gear can be an indicator of forced labor. NGOs report that in the city of Bima, on the island of Sumbawa, some professional horse racers use child jockeys, some of whom may be forced. Early marriage practices pushed many children—especially in poorer rural communities—into employment as new primary earners for their households, driving a high incidence of child labor migration through channels known for deceptive recruitment practices, debt bondage, and other forced labor indicators. In at least one case, an Indonesian lured another woman into marriage with a Chinese male through a “mail-order bride” program, where the woman was forced to work 14 hours per day at her new “husband’s” shop and plantation.
According to one international organization, up to 30 percent of individuals in commercial sex in Indonesia are female child sex trafficking victims. Sex traffickers often use debt or offers of jobs in restaurants, factories, or domestic service to coerce and deceive women and girls into exploitation in commercial sex across Indonesia, and notably in Batam and Jakarta. Sex traffickers use spas, hotels, bars, karaoke establishments, and other businesses to facilitate sex trafficking. Traffickers also exploit women and girls in sex trafficking near mining operations in Maluku, Papua, and Jambi provinces. Traffickers increasingly use online and social media platforms to recruit victims. In 2017, an NGO estimated there were 70,000 to 80,000 child sex trafficking victims in Indonesia. Child sex tourism is prevalent in the Riau Islands bordering Singapore. Bali is a destination for Indonesians and foreign tourists engaging in child sex tourism. Middle Eastern tourists come to Indonesia, particularly Puncak district in Bogor, and pay more than $700 for a “contract marriage,” usually up to one week in duration, that allows them to have extramarital sex without violating Islamic law. The girls as young as 9 years old, and some of the women, that the tourists “marry” are sex trafficking victims. While this is a religious practice, there is tacit government acceptance. Indonesian women are recruited abroad for ostensibly legitimate employment and are exploited in sex trafficking abroad, including in Timor-Leste.
Indonesians, including children, whose homes or livelihoods were destroyed by natural disasters in 2020 are vulnerable to trafficking; this is also true for four million children deemed by the government to be “neglected” and for approximately 16,000 homeless children estimated to be living in urban environments. Government failure to prevent companies from encroaching on indigenous communities’ land, sometimes in collusion with the military and local police, contributed to displacement that also left some ethnic minority groups vulnerable to trafficking. Endemic corruption among government officials facilitates practices that contribute to trafficking vulnerabilities in the travel, hospitality, and labor recruitment industries. Widespread social stigma and discrimination against members of Indonesia’s LGBTQI+ communities and persons living with HIV/AIDS complicated their access to formal sector employment, placing them at higher risk of human trafficking through unsafe employment in the informal sector. During the reporting period, nearly 350 Rohingya left Indonesian refugee camps by boat with human smugglers to reach Malaysia.
Senior vessel crew on board Chinese, Korean, Vanuatuan, Taiwan, Thai, Malaysian, Italian, and Philippines-flagged and/or owned fishing vessels operating in Indonesian, Thai, Sri Lankan, Mauritian, and Indian waters subject Indonesian fishermen to forced labor. During the reporting period, several Indonesian forced labor victims aboard Chinese-flagged fishing vessels sent a plea for assistance over social media, detailing persistent exploitation that included physical violence and the vessel’s crew refusal to feed workers until they completed their daily 20-hour shifts. Authorities secured the release of 157 Indonesian fishermen from the vessels, with strong indicators of forced labor, and confirmed that 12 Indonesian workers had died aboard the vessels between November 2019 and August 2020. Some trafficking victims reported the Chinese-flagged vessels had initially recruited them under the guise of well-paying jobs on Korean-flagged vessels. Traffickers recruited many fishing forced labor victims from Java, where they targeted poor farm workers, fraudulently recruited them with promises of high salaries and good working conditions, provided illicit travel documents, and made workers sign contracts so hard to break that experts refer to them as “slavery contracts.” Some Chinese-, Korean-, and Taiwanese-flagged vessels force Indonesian workers to remain on the vessel and work after the conclusion of their contract until the company secures replacement workers. Some of the traffickers promised to send the workers’ salaries directly to their families, but after several months at sea, many workers discovered the vessels had not sent any payments.
Dozens of recruitment agencies in Burma, Indonesia, and Thailand lure fishermen with promises of high wages, charge fees and curtailment deposits to assign them fake identity and labor permit documents, and then send them to fish long hours in waters on vessels operating under complex multinational flagging and ownership arrangements. Some fishermen are unaware their recruitment agencies continue to withhold or withdraw funds from their salary for years. Crew on board these vessels have reported low or unpaid salaries and coercive tactics such as contract discrepancies, document retention, restricted communication, poor living and working conditions, threats of physical violence, and severe physical and sexual abuse. Boat captains and crews prohibit fishermen from leaving their vessels and reporting these abuses through threats of exposing their fake identities to the authorities, threats of blacklisting them from future fishing employment, and, in previous years, by detaining them on land in makeshift prisons. Forced to sail longer distances to adjust to dwindling fish stocks, some crews remain at sea for months or even years without returning to shore, compounding their invisibility and preserving abusive senior crews’ impunity. Most Indonesian fishermen work aboard vessels operating in Taiwan’s highly vulnerable distant water fleet; many are also fishing in Korea’s distant water fleets. More than 7,000 Indonesian fishermen per year sign in and out of foreign vessels at the port in Cape Town, South Africa, reportedly facing dire working conditions, particularly on vessels owned by citizens of Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Traffickers also subject fishermen from other parts of Asia to forced labor on board fishing vessels in Indonesian waters; according to one recent study, these vessels account for nearly half of all migrant fishermen trafficked from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In Indonesian waters and elsewhere, some senior vessel crew force fishermen to engage in illegal fishing, poaching, smuggling, and illegal entry into national territories, making them vulnerable to criminalization. Companies operating under the auspices of the Japanese government’s “Technical Intern Training Program” have subjected Indonesian nationals to forced labor in food processing, manufacturing, construction, and fishing.