Agus Budiarto and Heny Marliana experienced the darkest moment of their lives in early August when their 6-month-old daughter, Cheryl Audrey, was abducted by their nanny.
They reported the case to the police and went on national television and online media to appeal for their daughter’s return. The media blitz proved to be valuable in the hunt for Cheryl.
Within two days, a couple who saw the appeal on TV brought the baby to Cakung subprecinct police station in East Jakarta and Cheryl was reunited with her parents. The nanny, Ina Asryiana, was arrested and is now in detention awaiting a possible trial.
Although the ordeal ended happily enough, the family is one of the very few to come through unscathed in such cases.
According to the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), 111 children were reported missing or kidnapped last year, only 5 percent of whom were ever returned to their families.
As of June this year, another 78 children have been abducted, according to figures from another watchdog, the Indonesian Commission for Child Protection (KPAI).
Arist Merdeka Sirait, the chairman of Komnas Anak, told the Jakarta Globe that in many cases, families were unable to provide much help to the police investigating abductions.
“The police also usually only take action after the victim has been missing for more than 24 hours,” he added. “Less than that, and the police will tend not to look into the case, either because of limited evidence or a limited budget.”
Other than kidnap for ransom, Arist went on, some abductions were carried out by nannies, baby sitters or neighbors over unfair treatment by the family, perceived or otherwise.
Agus said that in his family’s case, the couple who turned in his daughter said they had bought Cheryl from Ina, whom they had only met once.
He said Ina had later claimed that she had not meant to kidnap the child, but had taken her because she could not bear to leave her behind when she traveled back to her hometown of Subang in West Java.
“But I don’t believe everything that she says,” he said.
Maria Ulfah Anshor, the KPAI chairwoman, said divorce was the main factor in child abduction cases.
“According to our data, 70 percent of child abductions happen because of a custody battle over the children between separated parents,” she said.
“That happens because someone refuses to accept a court’s decision on custody of the child.”
Only 30 percent of abductions are carried out for financial motives, she said. But the financial gain in such cases does not always come from demanding a ransom from the parents.
“Several weeks ago, the KPAI found two children working as beggars on a train,” Maria said.
“We later found out that they were forced to do that by a stranger. Unfortunately, when we asked them about the stranger’s address, they couldn’t give us any details. That makes it very hard for us to investigate the case.”
Other means of exploitation employed by kidnappers include forcing children into the sex trade or selling them to childless couples for profit.
Maria said it was important for parents and police officers to adopt preventive measures against child abduction.
“Parents must start educating their children to be wary about talking to strangers or receiving anything from them,” she said.
“The police also need to disseminate information among elementary school students about the issue, because most of the targets of child abduction are elementary school-age children.”
But for Agus, the real lesson to take away from the whole ordeal is never to entrust the care of his child to a complete stranger.
The nanny who kidnapped his daughter was hired from a maid placement agency in Senen, Central Jakarta.
“In order to prevent anything like this from happening again, I hope that the agencies that provide baby sitters and nannies become more selective about recruiting workers and train them properly,” Agus said.
“But I’ve given up putting my trust in baby sitters. I believe it would be much better for the parents to take care of their own children until they are old enough to talk and can defend themselves. Otherwise we will just be placing our own children in great danger.”