Shelter for Indonesian Migrant Babies
A soft lullaby can be heard from inside a house in Tangerang. In one of the rooms, a dark-skinned 14-month-old baby girl dressed in pink is sitting on the floor. She smiles as someone calls her name.
Nayla was born last year in the bathroom of a prison in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Her mother, Rahma (not her real name), was a married woman with three children when she left Indonesia to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia. She signed a two-year contract upon arriving at her employer’s house, but when she wasn’t paid a salary for several months, Rahma decided to leave.
Without legal papers, which were held by her employer, she got in a taxi and headed to the agency that helped her get the job. But Rahma never arrived at the agency. On the way, she was raped by the taxi driver and his friend. After keeping her for two days , the rapists, both Bangladeshi, called the police saying they had found an Indonesian prostitute with no legal documents. Rahma was sentenced to a year in prison. Within weeks at the jail, she discovered she was pregnant.
After her release from prison, Rahma returned to Indonesia with the baby. But she could not bring her home to Jepara, Central Java, because her husband refused to accept the child.
For the past 13 months, Nayla has been cared for by Rumah Peduli Anak Tenaga Kerja Indonesia, or RPA-TKI, a home that takes care of children of Indonesian migrant workers who are born as a result of rape and sex outside of marriage.
Founded in February 2009, RPA-TKI is part of BNP2TKI, a national agency that deals with migrant workers. The house receives funding from institutions as well as individuals, said Yudhi Ramdani, manager of RPA-TKI. The infants are cared for by professional nannies and also by Yudhi and his wife.
“We don’t charge the mothers, everything is free,” he said.
According to Yudhi, it is not uncommon for female migrant workers abroad to come back to Indonesia with babies, resulting in painful consequences for many women.
“These women were either raped by strangers or by their own employers or they had sex with their boyfriends,” he said. “Most of them have husbands and children here in Indonesia, so it is a problem when it’s time for them to return home.”
Most of the women who have babies outside of their marriages are afraid to tell their families back home. As a result, Yudhi said, the babies are often given away or even sold by their mothers when they arrive at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport en route to their hometowns.
Before RPA-TKI was founded, selling babies “was just like selling goats” Yudhi said, noting this was “public knowledge” at the airport, where about 800 to 1,200 migrant workers arrive each day. About 150 of these workers are registered as muskilah , or troubled, according to Khairul Anwar, who works at the airport registration office for migrant workers .
“They are sent home because they’ve experienced layoffs, troubles with payment, sexual abuse, pregnancy and other problems,” Khairul said.
Among the “troubled” workers are women who return with babies. At the registration office they are questioned about the status of their babies and whether they plan to bring them home. It takes a lot of courage for the women to talk to their husbands or families about what happened, and they need time to decide whether to take their babies with them, Khairul said.
RPA-TKI offers the women a place where they can leave their babies until they decide what to do, he said. RPA-TKI allows women to leave their babies for up to six months, with an option to extend if necessary. One pregnant worker was allowed to stay in the house until she gave birth. The house has also helped find temporary homes and caretakers for the babies.
“In the past, anyone could just take the babies if the mothers did not want to take them home,” Khairul said.
Some unwanted babies still end up becoming victims of human trafficking, according to Yudhi, from RPA-TKI. About three to 10 migrant workers’ babies are registered every month, but RPA-TKI has taken in only 13 babies over the past year, he said.
“There is a big chance that human trafficking happens among the migrant workers themselves. Even at the airport terminals this business does exist,” Yudhi said.
So far 10 babies cared for by RPA-TKI have found permanent homes. Some have been returned to their mothers, whose families have agreed to accept them. Some have been adopted by foster parents, who were selected after a strict review process that includes a visit to the candidates’ homes by a social affairs agency to see whether they are capable of properly caring for the child. Once approved, the agency will send a recommendation letter to the court to legalize the adoption.
“Basically we just want to make sure that these babies are in safe hands,” Yudhi said.
As for baby Nayla, she will soon be getting a permanent home. This week a court in Tangerang will legalize her adoption by a couple from Bogor, Yudhi said.
“It is a wonderful thing that one by one the babies find their homes, but I am usually the first to cry,” Yudhi said. “I love them like they are my own.”