On February 17, police arrested a woman for holding seven Papuan children, aged four to 13, at a house on Jalan Intisari Raya in Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta.
The woman, identified only by her initials SK (35), had posed as a nun when she visited the Papuan town of Timika almost two years ago. She encouraged families to let her take their children to Jakarta for education at a prestigious Catholic school or a seminary.
On arrival in the national capital, the boys and girls were taken to the house, which became a virtual prison, where they were abused and exploited. Locals were told the house was a ‘shelter’ for orphans. The children were allowed outside only to beg for “social donations.” Sometimes they were left at a neighbour’s house when SK was away.
The National Commission for Child Protection, which led the rescue operation, said the children received some homeschooling but the ‘shelter’ was unregistered and lacked a teacher.
Commission chairman Arist Merdeka Sirait said SK routinely contacted the children’s families to ask them to transfer funds to cover the ‘school fees.’ He did not reveal the amount of the fees.
The case came to light after one of the children, Kristina Magal (11), escaped by climbing over a wall after being beaten for allegedly stealing bread from a food stall opposite the house. She said she and the others were often denied food. The local neighbourhood chief’s wife learned of her plight and contacted the commission.
Sirait said the worst abuse was suffered by the oldest child, Kristina’s sister, Magda (13), who had to take care of the others and keep the house clean. He said Magda was threatened with rape and being forced to drink mop water. If the housework was deemed unsatisfactory, she was punished by being denied food and had to sleep on a bare floor. Her two younger brothers, aged seven and five, were malnourished. They also had skin diseases, as they were rarely allowed to bathe. After being rescued, they were hospitalized.
Police and the commission had managed to contact the family of the four siblings and flew them to Jakarta. They were still trying the find relatives of the three other children, who have been taken to a safe house run by the Social Affairs Ministry.
The uncle of the four siblings, Janua Wamang, said he was tricked by the promise that they would receive a proper Christian education. He said he regularly transferred money to the ‘school,’ not knowing of the abuse.
At a press conference, he said SK had once punished one of his nieces by inserting a stick into her mouth, forcing it open “from morning until morning.”
“She was beaten. And her head was slammed into a wall,” said Janua.
Yunita Dumara, the mother of the siblings, said she was duped because SK had claimed to have already brought Papuan children to Jakarta and other cities in Java to provide them with an education. She said she had tried to communicate with her daughters and sons by telephone at least once every two months, but SK rarely answered phone calls.
Sirait urged people in Papua not to hand over their children to ‘missionaries’ in the name of religion.
Other cases have been reported of Papuan children being lured to Java with the promise of free schooling only to be sent to strict Islamic boarding schools and being forced to convert to Islam.
School children are often targeted by scammers, as they are more likely to be trusting of older strangers. In the West Java town of Cianjur, police are looking for a woman who posed as a trainee policewoman, befriended schoolgirls and stole their mobile phones and valuables.
The woman, aged about 30, wore a white Islamic veil and hung out outside elementary schools. She would start chatting to girls after classes, asking for information about a school. She would tell them she was a PhD student at Padjadjaran University and also training to be a policewoman. Next, she would convince the girls to accompany her to a fast-food restaurant. Then she would advise the girls to go to a prayer area, while she guarded their phones and bags. When the girls returned, the ‘policewoman’ and their phones had disappeared.
After a relative of one victim reported the crime on social media in February, numerous other victims recognized the woman and her modus operandi. Some said she sometimes posed as a charity collector for an orphanage. Several said she hypnotized her victims.
In Aceh province, school officials in the town of Bireuen have warned parents that scammers are trying to trick them into thinking their children have won scholarships.
The principal of Bireuen Senior High School 2 said dozens of parents had contacted him to ask for details about the scholarships. He said a scammer using the name Mulyadi had telephoned parents and informed them their child had made great achievements and was to be rewarded with a scholarship worth Rp.7.5 million.
Mulyadi then told the parents to contact a local ‘education department official’ named Faisal. He asked for their bank account numbers and full banking details, claiming he wanted to transfer the money as soon as possible. But no funds were ever sent. Instead, the parents had put themselves at risk of banking fraud, especially if they followed instructions to check their accounts at an ATM and were tricked into transferring money.
While Indonesia mandates 20 percent of government expenditure on education, schools and education officials still need to pay more attention to teaching students and parents of the risks of scams.