As HIV Rises, Balikpapan to Shut Down Red Light Area

Published: February 6, 2012

Authorities in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, have vowed to shut down a red light district in the north of the city by 2013.

The administration linked the decision to an increase in new HIV/AIDS infections. There were a reported 489 new HIV/AIDS infections in Balikpapan in 2012, a significant rise from 90 new infections the year before.

Balikpapan Mayor Rizal Effendi said his administration was working with the East Java administration to send home many of those working in the red light area. He added that he hoped the closure would lead to a decrease in new HIV/AIDS infections.

The city has set aside Rp 1.6 billion ($179,000) this year to provide sex workers with incentives of Rp 2.5 million each to leave the industry and cover their daily costs once they stop working.

“We will announce the impending closure this year and issue a ruling at the beginning of 2013 to shut down the red light district,” Rizal said on Sunday.

“We expect the East Java government to be in a position to bring home the workers.”

Authorities in Balikpapan are preparing for the area’s closure by educating sex workers and providing them with health checks and skills training.

There are 381 documented sex workers operating in the area, most of them from East Java and South Sulawesi. Only eight are from Balikpapan.

“We don’t want to rush the closure,” Rizal said. “We understand the process will require time. We need to ensure the sex workers are empowered to seek other employment before they are sent home.”

The administration plans to transform the area into a low-income adult education center teaching courses on the repairing of automobiles, hairdressing and dressmaking.

The Balikpapan administration will allocate Rp 13 billion from this year’s city budget to finance the closure and pay off debts to ASU, the contractor that built the area, which was initially to be used for rehabilitation.

The area was transformed into a red light district following a 1989 mayoral decree.

Not all parties agree with a phased process to shut down the area.

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