Eight citizens of China were among nine people arrested in Indonesia on suspicion of involvement in a human trafficking ring that lured Indonesian women into marriages with Chinese men, police said Tuesday.
National police announced the arrests after labor rights groups revealed over the weekend that trafficking networks had sent nearly 30 local women to China, where some were allegedly exploited sexually. The nine suspects were picked up in mid-June in West Kalimantan, a province in Indonesian Borneo, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
“They promised their victims decent lives in China,” Dedi said, adding that the Chinese nationals had been transferred to the custody of the immigration department.
One of the suspects, an Indonesian identified as Agus Matius Wiranata, was offered a fee of 70 million rupiah (U.S. $4,956) for every woman he managed to send to China as a potential bride, the police spokesman said.
The traffickers had promised their victims 20 million rupiah ($1,416) each in exchange for agreeing to go to China and marry local men, Dedi added.
On Sunday, the Indonesian Migrant Labor Alliance (SBMI) reported that human trafficking networks had transported 29 women from West Java and West Kalimantan provinces to China for marriage during the past two years.
Most of the victims were women who had little or no education and were poor, said Bobi Anwar Ma’arif, the alliance’s secretary general.
“Chinese men were looking for women from Indonesia and several other countries to marry because it’s expensive to marry local women,” Bobi said.
One of the 29 women was Monika Normiati (pictured), who ran away from her Chinese husband earlier this year to escape from alleged domestic violence and unpaid labor.
“I was promised that I would have a good life. I would live with my parents-in-law, buy jewelry, receive tens of millions in cash every month. I would be able to send my family money every month too,” Monika told reporters on Sunday.
Monika said her father-in-law once stripped her naked after she refused to have sex with her husband.
“Every day, I worked helping my in-laws at their flower arrangement shop. I was never paid any money, and sometimes I did not get any meals,” she recalled.
“I couldn’t use a cellphone so I couldn’t contact anyone,” she said.
Once, on a cold night, she said she was forced to sleep outside the house without a mat or a blanket.
Her ordeal began in September 2018, Monika recounted, when she got an offer from an acquaintance via Facebook to marry a “rich man” from China.
She was then introduced to two Chinese men, one around 40 years old, and the other 28. Monika, who is in her early twenties and has an elementary school education, chose the younger man. They were married soon after.
The couple was greeted with a warm welcome at the groom’s hometown in Hebei province, where they arrived a few days they wed.
But their honeymoon did not last long, Monika said. It was soon after that her husband, who turned out to be a construction worker, and his family began to treat her badly, she alleged.
One morning she decided to flee from her husband. She took a bus to the city of Wuji and asked the local police to contact the Indonesian embassy.
The police went to her husband’s address and asked him to surrender Monika’s passport.
“I had the passport but I couldn’t leave,” she said.
She then met an Indonesian student in Wuhan who sheltered her.
“They hid me on their campus and put me in a hotel until they managed to buy a ticket back to Indonesia for me,” Monika said.
Seriousness of police questioned
In Monika’s case, at least three people at the local level played a role in arranging the marriage in China, including agents in Jakarta and women in her home sub-district in West Kalimantan who served as matchmakers, according to Oky Wiratama Siagian, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Institute in Jakarta.
“There were also two men from China who were tasked with finding potential buyers from Jakarta,” he said.
SBMI, the association representing migrant workers, and the Legal Aid Institute urged the national police to take strong action against human trafficking networks.
“So far, we have not seen any serious efforts from the police,” Oky said.
In April, Indonesian police announced the arrests of eight suspects in what they described as the biggest human trafficking case they had ever uncovered – a ring that smuggled more than 1,200 domestic workers to the Middle East and North Africa.
The suspects belonged to four syndicates that trafficked Indonesians to countries including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Turkey, falsely promising their victims lucrative pay as domestic help, police said.
Since 2015, Indonesia has imposed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to 19 countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The measure was taken following cases of abuse against female domestic workers from Indonesia.