By Rod McGuirk
The Associated Press
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — When a seemingly kind street vendor confessed to the sexual abuse and murders of 14 boys, it was a story that was both shocking — and familiar.
Indonesians drew parallels to another Jakarta man, Robot Gedek, who died of a heart attack in 2007 while he was on death row for raping and killing 12 boys in the mid-1990s.
In both cases, most of the victims were homeless. The serial killings highlight what activists say is a widespread and largely ignored problem: the rampant sex abuse of poor children in this Southeast Asian nation.
The vendor pushed a cart through the bustling streets of Jakarta, the capital, selling snacks, drinks, and cigarettes. He went by one name, Baikuni, and street kids called him “Babe” (pronounced bar-bay), an affectionate term for “Dad.”
The 48-year-old man was known for having a soft heart for street kids, many of whom he took home and gave temporary shelter, apparently without molesting them.
However, he strangled others, sometimes before and sometimes after sodomizing them, he told police.
Baikuni was arrested in his rented house in January, days after severed body parts of 9-year-old Ardiansyah were found in a black plastic bag in a nearby river.
In police custody, he confessed to murdering 14 boys, aged 6 to 12, from 1995 to Jan. 8 of this year.
“In the beginning, he just lured them to his home, sodomized them, then dumped the bodies,” police investigator Lt. Col. Nico Afinta said.
Later, starting in 2007, he decapitated and mutilated his victims after strangling them with rope.
His last victim was a neighbor. Ardiansyah’s mother knew her son had been spending time at Baikuni’s house in recent months and immediately suspected him.
“Why was Babe caught? Because he violated his own procedure of luring victims who were strangers from outside his neighborhood,” a psychologist who questioned Baikuni in prison, Sarlito Wirawan Sarwono, told reporters.
In an unexplained twist, Baikuni may have been a witness in the case against Gedek, though police and Baikuni’s lawyers deny that.
Gedek’s former lawyer, Febri Irmansyah, told reporters that he believes Baikuni testified under another name in 1997, telling a court that he saw Gedek carry a young victim into bushes in central Jakarta in 1995.
Police say Baikuni wasn’t a witness.
Baikuni did know Gedek, a homeless man who eked out a living by selling plastic bottles for recycling. But one of Baikuni’s lawyers, Haposan Nainggolan, said his client knew Gedek only as two men who worked the same streets would.
Seto Mulyaqdi, chairman of the independent National Commission on Child Protection, said that reports of sexual abuse and missing children suggest there are more victims of Baikuni and other killers, both in Jakarta and the cities of Makassar and Medan.
“I think there are more people like Babe. This is the tip of an iceberg,” he said.
Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian adviser to New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he believes most street kids have been sexually abused, based on his interviews with children.
“When you are seven or eight, you are already being abused. It’s a big problem in a place as crowded as Java,” he said, referring to Indonesia’s main island, where most of the nation’s 235 million people live.
Frans Hendra Winarta, a prominent Jakarta trial lawyer, who is chairman of the Indonesian Advocates Association, said the current police priority is tackling corruption, not child abuse or murder.
Police lack the money and resources to tackle all the nation’s crime, he said, adding that victims who are wealthy enough to pay for a police investigation, including “bonuses” for investigators, could get their crimes investigated.
“Whether you’re rich or poor, you have to pay the police. Otherwise, they won’t notice you,” Winarta said.
“That’s the problem with this country.” ♦
Associated Press writer Irwan Firdaus in Jakarta contributed to this report.