Sat, Nov 03, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Girls kidnapped, trafficked on Facebook

The social media site’s popularity in Indonesia has made it a vehicle for predators to lure, abduct and sell girls into prostitution

By Margie Mason  /  AP, DEPOK, Indonesia

The 27 Facebook-related abductions reported to the commission this year in Indonesia have already exceeded 18 similar cases it received in all of last year. Overall, the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking said 435 children were trafficked last year, mostly for sexual exploitation.

Many who fight child sex crimes in Indonesia believe the real numbers are much higher. Missing children are often not reported to authorities. Stigma and shame surround sexual abuse in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, and there is a widespread belief that police will do nothing to help.

An ECPAT International report estimates that each year, 40,000 to 70,000 children are involved in trafficking, pornography or prostitution in Indonesia, a nation of 240 million where many families remain impoverished.

The US State Department has also warned that more Indonesian girls are being recruited using social media networks. In a report last year, it said traffickers have “resorted to outright kidnapping of girls and young women for sex trafficking within the country and abroad.”

Online child sexual abuse and exploitation are common in much of Asia. In the Philippines, kids are being forced to strip or perform sex acts on live Web cams — often by their parents, who are using them as a source of income. Western men typically pay to use the sites.

“In the Philippines, this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only Facebook and social media, but it’s also through text messages ... especially young, vulnerable people are being targeted,” said Leonarda Kling, regional representative for Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a nonprofit working on trafficking issues. “It’s all about promises. Better jobs or maybe even a nice telephone or whatever. Young people now, you see all the glamour and glitter around you and they want to have the latest BlackBerry, the latest fashion, and it’s also a way to get these things.”

Facebook says its investigators regularly review content on the site and work with authorities, including Interpol, to combat illegal activity. It also has employees around the world tasked with cracking down on people who attempt to use the site for human trafficking.

“We take human trafficking very seriously and, while this behavior is not common on Facebook, a number of measures are in place to counter this activity,” spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mail.

The Depok girl, wearing a mask to hide her face as she was interviewed, said she is still shocked that the man she knew for nearly a month turned on her.

“He wanted to buy new clothes for me and help with school payments. He was different ... that’s all,” she said. “I have a lot of contacts through Facebook, and I’ve also exchanged phone numbers, but everything has always gone fine. We were just friends.”

She said that after being kidnapped, she was given sleeping pills and was “mostly unconscious” for her ordeal. She said she could not escape because a man and another girl stood guard over her.

The girl said the man did not have the money for a plane ticket to Batam, and also became aware that her parents and others were relentlessly searching for her. He ended up dumping her at a bus station, where she found help.

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