From Dreams to Nightmares
Children as Victims of Sex Tourism in Bali
Bali is a heaven for millions of tourists from other countries. Hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities are mushrooming in the southern and central regions of Bali. Many Balinese women working in this sector also engage in sexual relations with foreign tourists. Where these relationships result in pregnancies, the women and children may eventually be left to their own devices. The Indonesian Arek Lintang (ALIT) Foundation has taken up the challenge of supporting such children.
Many Balinese women, especially those from the lowest caste (sudra), are engaged in tourism-related jobs that do not require formal skills: making or selling handicrafts, sewing cheap clothing, or providing massage services. These women are mostly from northern and eastern Bali, two regions less promoted in Bali's mainstream tourism. Not many tourist centres are as developed as Denpasar, Badung, or Gianyar.
Apart from their involvement in the tourism sector, Balinese women might also engage in sexual relations and quite a few got married to tourists. In Ubud, there are three girls who are children of a low caste Balinese woman in Singaraja. Their father is a Dutch man who now passed away. He had visited Sanur as a tourist in the late 1990s and met their mother who worked at a massage centre. Currently, the mother and children live in a very bad rented house and have for the last five years been working as plastic bottle collectors. These half-orphans are absent from school. Instead, they help their mother clean private villas owned by foreigners. Their mother also has several friends with a similar fate. Their past with foreign tourists led to pregnancies, without the men taking responsibility, so that now many of the children from such relationships are in a poor economic situation.
The "Cinderella syndrome"
For the people of Indonesia, Bali remains the most prominent tourist destination. You can be proud to have visited places that have also been visited by global or national celebrities. The Cinderella syndrome – the phenomenon of wishing to marry a prince from a foreign country – has in the last ten years become common among young girls, especially those from areas adjacent to Bali in the districts of Banyuwangi, Jember, and West Lombok. These young girls are generally vocational school students majoring in tourism. Some of them are from poor families. They see that the potential to visit tourist attractions and get a "spouse" from the princes across the country can be realized in Bali.
These teenagers are usually 15 to 17 years old when they choose Bali for an internship and are placed in housekeeping. So they easily get the acquaintance of foreign tourists and can offer themselves to accompany these tourists to the entertainment centres such as pubs, night clubs, beach clubs or just walks around Bali. These youngsters like to connect with foreign tourists who are much older. Many of them have the support of their families because older tourists are considered to have more money and be more loyal, rather than having the children date young people.
For teenagers, one way to increase their status among their friends in the village are photos on social media showing them at a popular expensive club, wearing expensive branded clothes. To achieve this, girls take advantage of being with old tourists. One girl from Ubud told me that a friend of hers is now pregnant at the age of 15, and she is not the only one.
Supporting children: The Arek Lintang (ALIT) Foundation
After finding the three girls Ubud – thin, dirty and very smelly, picking up plastic bottles along the road in the market area –, the ALIT Foundation started to work on child protection in Bali in 2016. The ALIT Foundation is an NGO based in Surabaya. It was established in 1998 and is a member of ECPAT, an international network to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism.
Previously, ALIT had established cooperation relationships with craftsmen in Bali. Cooperation with the local artisans produces a lot of information on children who are engaged in sex tourism. ALIT conducts awareness campaigns and provides escort services for children born of mothers who are married to foreigners, to take care of the legal status of children, especially with regard to the parenting responsibilities of their fathers.
We communicate with Hindu and Christians institutions. Links with the fathers' countries can be traced through the diplomatic relations of the Catholic Church. ALIT has accompanied the three Indonesian-Dutch girls who have now started a new life with a living allowance from Dutch families, obtained through a coordination by ALIT with their father's family in the Netherlands. One pregnant girl victim of a foreign tourist is also currently protected and supported by our organization. We also keep lobbying Balinese government agencies and traditional Balinese leaders to help keep children away from the dangers of sex tourism.
Oleh Yuliati Umrah is the Executive Director of Arek Lintang (ALIT) Foundation, Indonesia.