Human trafficking: One day I received a letter saying I was married!

human trafficking

Fransiska (not her real name) was only 32 and still working as a babysitter in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta when a group of four matchmakers — two men and two women — introduced her to three Taiwanese men on three separate occasions back in December 2018.

She refused to marry the first and second. The third, however, she felt compelled to accept because of the offers the matchmakers made to her family, who knew them well.

“I was told that by marrying him, I could financially support my parents living in a remote village in West Kalimantan province and help renovate their house because the man was rich enough. Who could say no to that?” she said.

The Catholic was given three days by the matchmakers to return to her village to arrange everything needed for her marriage, including applying for a passport and obtaining a letter for new residency.

“I just did what they told me. I did not even know where the address written in my new residency letter was. Also, one day, in a hotel room, I had to sign two blank pages without knowing why,” Fransiska said.

Until one day, in May 2019, she received a letter saying she was married.

“It surprised me as there had been no wedding ceremony. More surprisingly, it said that a Buddhist monk had officiated at my wedding ceremony at a local Buddhist temple and I had converted to Buddhism,” she said.

Alarmed, she thought of backing out of the arrangement.

“But the matchmakers said I had to pay 300 million rupiah [about US$25,000] if I wanted to back out as I had signed an agreement. Now I know what the two blank pieces of paper were for.”

Fransiska found help from an anti-human trafficking group called the National Network Against Human Trafficking (JarNas Anti-TPPO) and has lived at a shelter run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (RGS) in Jakarta since August that year.

“The matchmakers still threaten me on social media,” she said.

According to Sister M. Theresia Anita Yuniastuti, the head of the shelter, Fransiska is a victim of a mail order bride racket. It’s common for human traffickers to pose as marriage brokers in Indonesia and her case remains under investigation by police following a report filed by the group in November 2019.

“What she told us about how her marriage was brought about didn’t seem right. The whole process was arranged faster than normal. It seems that everything was well organized,” the nun said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the main reason why the case cannot be brought to court yet. We were told that witnesses from West Kalimantan province must be present in court, but the pandemic makes it difficult for them to travel.”

The nun said she hoped Fransiska will get justice soon. “She is one of many women to fall victim to human traffickers.”

More women seek protection

Indonesia’s Social Ministry reported 4,906 human trafficking victims between 2016 and June 2019.

Meanwhile, data from the Children Protection Online Information System at the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry shows there were 155 human trafficking cases involving 195 women and children between January 2019 and June 2020.

Sixty-five percent, or 101 cases, involved sexual exploitation. Most of the rest involved labour abuses.

Edwin Partogi Pasaribu, deputy chairman of the Witness and Victim Protection Agency, said the number of human trafficking victims asking for protection from his agency has increased significantly, from 46 in 2015 to 120 in 2020. Most were women from West Java, Jakarta and East Nusa Tenggara provinces.

The true number of cases is almost certainly much higher, he said.

“If we talk about human trafficking, there are many problems behind this issue: poverty, low education, corruption, weak and unwilling law enforcement and so on,” said Father Chrisanctus Paschalis Saturnus, head of Pangkalpinang Diocese’s Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

For the activist priest, who is known for his work in supporting and protecting human trafficking victims particularly in Batam — a transit hub in the Riau Islands for illegal migrant workers — tackling human trafficking needs closer cooperation between government, law enforcement, NGOs, the Church and other religions.

“The Church has long shown its concern for and taken steps to deal with the issue.

The Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, for example, has the Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, which works with NGOs and governmental bodies in tackling injustice including human trafficking,” he said.

“In Batam, my team and I joined a group called Safe Migrant.

It consists of nine anti-human trafficking bodies including RGS nuns. We have built on this cooperation over the last four years, focusing on advocacy.”

At least 500 human trafficking victims, mostly women and children hired to become domestic workers in other countries including Malaysia, have been rescued by the priest and his team.

However, only 10 traffickers have been imprisoned over the last eight years and are serving jail terms of between one to nine years.

Also, in June 2019, the bishops’ commission published a local version of a 36-page document, “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking,” originally published in January that year by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The aim was to enable Catholics to understand the Church’s stance on trafficking and warn others about the dangers of becoming involved.

“I have been dealing with human trafficking for years. I must admit that it is not easy to address the issue. We know the danger it poses, but we do not know the best solution to it. We need to reconstruct the way we deal with it,” Father Saturnus said.

“What we have done so far only scratched the surface and never reached the bottom. What we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg.”

  • Katharina R. Lestari is a contributor to
  • Republished with permission.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: ,