Jakarta (AFP) - At rush hour every weekday, women with babies slung across their arms line the traffic-choked streets of the Indonesian capital, flagging down drivers looking to game Jakarta’s carpooling laws by hiring a few extra passengers. But revelations some of the infants used in this years-old streetside business have been rented out by criminal syndicates, and even drugged to keep them quiet, has outraged Jakartans and prompted a crackdown by city authorities.
Motorists know at rush hour they need at least two passengers to enter main roads by law, so rely on “jockeys”: These are often poor young women with a child, who act as passengers-for-hire in exchange for a small fee. Children tug on heartstrings and help attract drivers, said Risma, a jockey hailing cars near a major roadway in South Jakarta with her three-year-old son. “People sympathise easily with you if you’ve got a baby,” she told AFP, stressing she only took her child because she had no other choice.
The strategy has existed openly for years, but as outrage mounted over this unfolding child exploitation scandal, the government has now suspended the carpooling rule, putting jockeys out of work. Last month, police confirmed many of the child jockeys lining Jakarta’s streets had been rented out by their families to criminal syndicates.
After a months-long investigation, police in South Jakarta swooped on four adults they believed were renting out children as beggars or child jockeys for 200,000 rupiah (USD$15) per day. Two children — aged seven and five years old — and a baby, aged just six months, were taken into protective care.