Governor suggests legalizing prostitution in certain areas

Governor suggests legalizing prostitution in certain areas
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, acting governor of Jakarta, Indonesia.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is recommending that the city administration legalize prostitution in certain areas.

Last weekend, the Jakarta Police arrested members of an online prostitution group consisting of a pimp and six sex workers, one of whom was underage and pregnant, in the Kalibata City apartments in South Jakarta. Earlier this month, it was also revealed that many sex workers in Tebet, South Jakarta, received clients who "booked" them via Twitter to meet them in their rented rooms.

Ahok said that legalizing a red-light district would provide an alternative solution for prostitution, which nowadays in Jakarta is conducted in plain sight and in various places across the city.

"Legalizing a prostitution site would be a solution because no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to eradicate prostitution. It will always exist as long as humans exist," Ahok said at City Hall on Monday.

He suggested that the city administration provide one apartment building as a prostitution site where visitors would need to provide identification. The sex workers would receive professional certification that would be useful for data gathering and would get periodic health checks.

Ahok said that the city would also give "religious guidance" to the sex workers and give them training in various areas in order to "supply" them with knowledge for when they leave the profession. So far, Ahok said that the city administration's approach was "catching" prostitutes and forcing them into social shelters. However, he said, the sex workers would "return to the streets the minute they left the shelter".

Ahok cited the 10-hectare Kramat Tunggak brothel complex in North Jakarta, which was legalized by former governor Ali Sadikin in the 1970s, but was closed down in 1999 by then governor Sutiyoso, who later built the Jakarta Islamic Center on the land.

"But did prostitution in the area stop? No. The sex workers moved to Cilincing [in North Jakarta] and everyone knows that," Ahok said.

There are several illegal red-light districts in Jakarta, including Kalijodo in West Jakarta, Boker in East Jakarta and Bongkaran in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta.

Bandung in West Java is also home to the Saritem brothel complex. Although it was officially closed in 2007, a number of sex workers still operate in the area.

"I understand that this idea would be impossible to implement, especially in our country where everyone claims to be pure from sin. But if anyone has a better idea, I would like to hear it," Ahok said.

Separately, a member of the AIDS Prevention Commission's monitoring and evaluation division, Muhammad Fahmi, said a legal prostitution site could help minimise the spread of AIDS.

"It would be a controversial policy in many aspects. However, from the point of view of health, if prostitution was centred, it would help the city administration monitor the sex workers' health and minimise the spread of AIDS through prostitution," Fahmi said over the phone on Monday.

He said that according to Bylaw No. 5/2008 on HIV/AIDS prevention, employers at all work places in which workers could potentially contract AIDS from their jobs were obligated to check their employees' health every three months. However, Fahmi said that employers rarely complied with the regulations and the city administration also largely failed to supervise them.

Meanwhile, councilor Hasbiallah Ilyas of the National Awakening Party (PKB) opposed the plan, saying legalized prostitution was unnecessary.

"I don't agree with the plan. I think legalizing a prostitution site would not provide a solution. Instead, the city administration should just increase monitoring of such activities and give counseling to its residents to prevent them from participating," he said.

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