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 For Indonesian Women, Danger Lurks in Minivan Rides

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BerichtOnderwerp: For Indonesian Women, Danger Lurks in Minivan Rides   For Indonesian Women, Danger Lurks in Minivan Rides Icon_minitimema 10 okt 2011 - 6:58

Straights Times Indonesia | October 10, 2011

Every morning, sales promoter Puti Agus jostles with other passengers to get a seat on one of the blue minivans plying between her East Jakarta home and the city centre. The journey takes her two hours, during which she has to switch vehicles twice, to another minivan service and later a bigger bus, to get to work.

She has been making the trip every day for several years, despite a recent flurry of reports of women being molested, raped or even murdered in such 12-seater minivans, commonly referred to as "mikrolet" in Jakarta. While the reports have made Puti more cautious, they have not deterred her from using them to get to work.

"Only these small vans come into my residential area. I have to take them to get to the big buses," says the 25-year-old. Taking a taxi, she adds, would cost her five times as much.

It is a similar story for the many other thousands of commuters, who not only have to put up with cramped conditions, but also risk getting pickpocketed, molested and raped as they take these minivans daily.

There are more than 12,000 of these vehicles, which together with 10,000 buses make up Jakarta's public transportation. Run by a mix of small and large private operators, they are all supposed to be regulated, but enforcement is lax and some drivers get away with sub-contracting to unlicensed drivers.

The minivans, which ply routes on the city's outskirts that most cabs or buses don't cover, came under scrutiny recently after two women were allegedly assaulted by drivers of these vehicles.

Last month, a 27-year-old woman was raped by four men inside a minivan. The incident followed the rape and murder of a 21-year-old undergraduate, Livia Pavita Soelistio, while taking a minivan to her university in West Jakarta in August.

And just last Friday, another undergraduate jumped out of a moving minivan when its driver took a different route and ignored her pleas to stop. She was afraid she would be kidnapped or raped.

The incidents sparked a public debate over the safety of the capital's public transportation system, and also drew calls for better security, as well as protests against sexual harassment.

In response, police stepped up checks on operators and bus and minivan drivers, clamping down on offenses such as not having valid documents and having overly tinted windows on their vehicles. At least 582 minivans were booked for having darkened windows, which officials said prevented people from seeing what was going on inside the vehicles.

"This way, we can reduce crimes like rape, mugging and pickpocketing that target especially women," Arifin Hamonangan, of the East Jakarta Transportation Office, told

The latest crimes have revived earlier debates - and complaints - among female passengers about being molested inside public buses, and have also highlighted past failures to reduce such crimes.

In 2008, a poll by the Institute for Transportation Studies showed that 90 per cent of women wanted special women-only buses to be provided for their safety and comfort.

The authorities responded by providing women-only carriages on commuter trains, while the city's TransJakarta bus operator tried out separate queues for women and men waiting for the buses. But the ideas did not get very far, and the system eventually fell apart.

While transport analysts blame the failure on inconsistent action and lax enforcement, Aip Syarifuddin of the Organization of Land Transportation Owners says that the authorities fail to monitor minivan operators. Unlicensed vehicles are often quietly added on popular routes, he adds, and no checks are made to ensure drivers have proper documentation such as valid driving licenses or permits to operate.

Data from Jakarta's traffic police shows that nearly half of the 167,419 minivan drivers booked between January and September this year did not have valid documents showing that they were authorized drivers.

More than checks, say transport planning experts, the government needs to overhaul the public transportation system.

Darmaningtyas, a transport researcher at the Institute for Transportation Studies, tells The Straits Times: "Jakarta has double the number of residents of Singapore, but has proportionally fewer buses and minivans."

What the government needs to do, he says, is to improve the image and enforcement of rules. This will encourage more people to take public transport, hence alleviating the long traffic snarls that the city is well known for.

The law requires companies to provide transport to and from work for employees working night shifts, but not all employers are doing that.

Meanwhile, passengers like Puti say they have learnt to be street-smart.

"You just have to use your common sense," she says. "Be alert, don't take the minivan if you don't feel comfortable or see only male passengers. And shout if anything is wrong - people do help."

Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia.

(as read in the JG)

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