BANDUNG, Indonesia —
Recently, in the eastern city of Surabaya, a 15-year-old was busted after escorting three other teens to meet clients at a hotel. Police spokeswoman Maj. Suparti says the girl employed 10 prostitutes — including classmates, Facebook friends and even her older sister — and collected up to a quarter of the $50 to $150 received for each call.
She conducted business over the popular BlackBerry Messenger service, earning up to $400 a month, says Suparti, who uses one name like many Indonesians. The girl also met potential clients in malls or restaurants first to size them up.
"She was running her pimp action like a professional," Suparti says.
Human trafficking and sex tourism have long been big business in this vast archipelago of 240 million, thanks to rampant corruption, weak law enforcement and a lack of reporting largely due to family embarrassment or little faith in the system.
The U.N. International Labor Organization estimates 40,000 to 70,000 children become victims of sexual exploitation in Indonesia annually.
Much of this abuse is driven by adults, but poverty and consumerism play a role. Indonesia's have-nots rub up against a growing middle class obsessed with the latest gadgets and the ultra-wealthy flaunting their designer clothes and luxury cars.
It was a smartphone that drove soft-spoken Daus into prostitution at age 14. The son of a factory worker and a street food vendor, the lanky boy says he was soon making $400 to $500 a month for having sex regularly with three women in their 30s and 40s.
"I didn't want to do it, but I had to have the BlackBerry," he says. Indonesia is a social-media crazed country that ranks as one of the world's top Facebook and Twitter users. "If we don't have a BlackBerry, we feel we are nothing, and we are ignored by our friends."