Indonesia in Focus
Saritem – Red-Light Bastion: Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Never being one to need the services of a lady-of-the-night, it is always sad to read about the areas where these ladies work being closed down. After all, they do off an invaluable service to frustrated patrons!.
In Bandung, the oldest red-light district is to be shut down as Yuli Tri Suwarni explains:
Bandung ready to close Saritem, its oldest red-light district
Bandung’s oldest red-light district, Saritem, could soon be forced out of business as the city administration prepares to crack down on prostitution.
The administration says it will begin implementing a 2005 local ordinance on order, cleanliness and beauty in November. The ordinance contains an article on prostitution that says anyone who provides sexual services for money — sex workers and their pimps — can be fined up to Rp 50 million. Anyone using these services can face a fine of up to Rp 5 million.
Dozens of public order officers began passing out leaflets Wednesday to inform residents of the ordinance and the penalties they could face for violations.
However, most sex workers in Saritem said they had heard nothing about the matter.
“I was out all day and we didn’t get any leaflets …,” said “Citra”, a 21-year-old sex worker from Indramayu, West Java, on Thursday.
According to data from the Kebon Jeruk subdistrict, where the red-light district is located, there are about 450 sex workers and 73 pimps operating from two neighborhood units in Saritem.
“We’ve conducted regular programs to let people know about the ordinance. On Wednesday we called all the pimps and 64 of them showed up to learn about the closure plan and the fines to be imposed by the city administration,” Kebon Jeruk district head Yayan Ahadiat said in Bandung on Thursday.
He said the information was expected to be passed on to the sex workers by the pimps.
Sex workers who have heard about the approaching crackdown are concerned for their futures, and want the city administration to help them find alternative work if the red-light district is closed.
“Go ahead and close Saritem. They have been planning it for a long time. But we have not been offered any alternatives, so how can we earn money to eat?” said 23-year-old “Dina”, who has been a sex worker in Saritem for four years.
The red-light district has been in the city since colonial times. Authorities first began talking about shutting down Saritem in 1998, as part of a morality campaign.
Billions of rupiah were reportedly spent by the city administration to build the Darut Taubah Islamic boarding school in the middle of the red-light district in 2000. The school was located in the area to improve Saritem’s image, as well as to promote religious teachings among the sex workers, about 80 percent of whom come from outside Bandung.
But six years since the school was built the red-light district is still open and as busy as ever.
The head of Bandung’s Islamic Boarding School Communication Forum, Imam Sonhaji, who came up with the idea to build the Islamic boarding school in Saritem, said the main problem with getting women out of the sex business was finding them alternative jobs.
“There are training programs to provide them with new skills but they (the sex workers) have no capital. The administration should come up with a solution to help them get out of prostitution,” he said.
In addition to those directly employed in the sex trade, about 1,000 other Saritem residents earn a living from the red-light district, including running food stalls and massage parlors for customers drawn to the area.
Yuli Tri Suwarni
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