Jakartans grapple with rising wave of child kidnappings

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am

Jakarta has always prided itself on being safer than other Southeast Asian capitals, such as Bangkok and Manila, but a sharp rise in the crime rate is changing all of that.

Rich Indonesians and the expatriate community are particularly worried about the rising number of children being kidnapped.

In the latest case, five-year-old Raisya Ali was freed by police last week after nine days in captivity. The daughter of Said Ali, an executive of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association, Raisya was the 14th person - and the eighth child - to be kidnapped in Jakarta in the last two months.

The National Commission for the Protection of Children said 39 children had been kidnapped in Indonesia since January. Last year, the total was 87. Twelve of the 126 people kidnapped in the last two years were killed.

Keith Loveard, chief analyst at Concorde Consulting, a Jakarta-based risk-assessment firm, said the problem was serious and likely to get worse, even though the success rate for kidnappings was low and many perpetrators are caught. He cited 'social jealousy' as one of the causes.

'This criminal wave is not due to organised crime. It is more a copycat effect,' he said. 'The wealth gap is widening throughout Asia. What is remarkable is that in Jakarta most people have always accepted the situation without too many problems, but that may be changing.'

Other analysts cite business rivalries, child sex abuse and syndicates trading in children among the reasons behind the kidnappings.

The national commission for the protection of children said ransom was the motive behind 48 of the 87 kidnappings last year. The commercial sexual exploitation of children was behind 25 others, while rape was the motive for the final 14.

Aries Merdeka Sirait, secretary-general of the commission, said parents and schools should take more responsibility for children's safety. 'More is needed from schools and parents, who are the institutions that should protect the children more than anyone else.'

Elite schools and high-end housing complexes have reportedly tightened security. Seto Mulyadi, the commission's chairman, has suggested schools run simulations of kidnappings to raise children's awareness.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who personally appealed for Raisya's release, has joined a chorus of high officials in asking parents to 'closely watch their children because of the rise in kidnappings'.

Children traditionally enjoy a lot of freedom in Indonesia, and are often left to play alone in the streets.

Politicians and the public have asked the police to do more, but the Jakarta police department has acknowledged lacking the resources to cope with the increase in kidnappings. A recent police report also noted a 20 per cent increase in other crimes, such as aggravated assault, burglary and homicide.