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Indonesia takes on 'Dolly' red-light district

A crusading mayor – credited with regenerating Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city after the capital Jakarta – is making a determined push to close down the notorious brothel network in Surabaya, despite fierce resistance and warnings that it could push sex workers into destitution. 

“We have to lift our people from oppression,” said Tri Rismaharini, a female mayor who wears the Muslim headscarf and whose stewardship of Surabaya has led many to predict she could have a future role in national politics.

Rismaharini has set a date of June 18 to close the brothels in this "Dolly" district, and a neighbouring area called Jarak, which have a largely local clientele.

Authorities are offering each of the estimated 1,400 prostitutes around five million rupiah ($420) and training in new professions that are expected to replace prostitution there, such as baking or handicrafts.

While many have welcomed the move, the plan has stirred strong opposition from sex workers and others whose jobs depend on Dolly, such as taxi drivers and street vendors who contribute to the area’s estimated nightly income of between 300 and 500 million rupiah ($25,000 - $42,000).

Protests

Sex workers and residents have been staging protests in recent weeks, with hundreds of prostitutes marching through Dolly earlier this month.

“I am not going to accept the government offer because I really need this work,” said Mawar, who gave only one name, sitting on a faded old sofa in a club in Dolly.

“I would never be able to find another job because I did not even finish elementary school.”

Local residents join sex workers as they take part in a protest in the notorious redlight area of Dolly, one of Southeast Asia's largest redlight districts, in Surabaya in eastern of Java island, on June 5, 2014 to demand the cancellation of the planned c

Local residents join sex workers as they take part in a protest in the notorious redlight area of Dolly, one of Southeast Asia's largest red-light districts, in Surabaya in eastern of Java island, on June 5, 2014 to demand the cancellation of the planned closure of the area. PHOTO: AFP

The sex worker, who earns between 10 million and 13 million rupiah a month ($850 to $1,100), said it would be hard for her to support her two children, aged five and eight, if Dolly closes.

According to local reports, the mayor will issue a declaration on Wednesday evening, saying that Dolly and Jarak are closed and police will move in to shut it down.

The prostitutes will have to leave the same day and will receive training for the next seven days, according to officials. Those who came from villages outside Surabaya will have to return to them.

For some members of the public, this will be a welcome move. “I want Dolly to be closed - this place brings shame on Surabaya,” said Siti, a 46-year-old teacher who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “The people who go there for girls are sexually unstable.” 

Source: AFP