With the support of its provincial government, East Kalimantan’s large cities are continuing their war on prostitution, citing fears of an unmonitored spread of HIV/AIDS and cases of drug abuse.
Officials in the capital, Samarinda, and Kutai Kartanegara district recently announced plans to shut down their respective red-light districts, following similar moves in Tarakan and Balikpapan.
The latter recently managed to shutter two of its two prostitution hubs, Manggarsari and KM 17.
Mariatin Hartiningsih, secretary of the East Kalimantan Social Service Office, said the aggressive campaign was projected to dramatically reduce the number of sex workers in the province, which currently stands at roughly 4,000.
“[Leaders of] the red-light districts were supposed to manage their workers and the activities that go on in their respective areas,” she said. “But we are worried they have turned into a den for narcotics, illegal alcohol distribution and HIV/AIDS, which is why we support [the cities’] actions.”
Mariatin added that each city would establish a training program for sex workers who now find themselves without a source of income to support their families.
“The local administrations will help [former prostitutes] by sending them back to their hometowns or by teaching them skills that will secure them a respectable job,” Mariatin said.
The Social Advocacy and Rehabilitation Foundation (Laras), a local non-governmental group offering social and health services to sex workers, criticized the local governments’ recent move, saying it would hamper work to raise awareness about drug abuse and the spread of HIV/AIDS in the community.
“I liken the red-light district to a bag containing a virus,” said Laras director Andi Muhammad Aslam. “Prostitution must be contained with the help of strict preventive measures against the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. If that bag is destroyed, the virus will spread uncontrollably. This is very dangerous.”
Aji Sofyan Effendi, an economist at Samarinda’s Mulawarman University, said East Kalimantan’s rapid rate of urbanization had contributed to the problem.
“East Kalimantan has become a key destination for newcomers seeking to improve their livelihoods, including those with no skills,” Aji said. “Some people make use of this situation by developing the sex industry.” Tunggadewa Mattangkilang