Jakarta. Glen Hulley, a former officer with the Melbourne Police Department, started Project Karma, a non-profit organization, in 2016 to combat child sexual exploitation and trafficking.
The project began as a registered charity in Australia, but Hulley's success in lobbying the Australian government to ban travel for registered child sex offenders (RCSOs) inspired him to expand his work into Southeast Asia.
Hulley has since turned his attention to Indonesia, the region's most populous country.
Hulley spoke to the Jakarta Globe recently to explain Project Karma's mission and introduce what he has called the "Sentinel Model" pilot project to combat child trafficking and sexual abuse on the island of Bali, where he says children are "quite regularly" abused.
Why Project Karma?
Hulley said children around the world are vulnerable to the commercial sex trade and trafficking networks, either through customary traditions, forced marriages or by syndicated criminal organizations.
"A lot of research has been done by Unicef and also by the international community. We looked at a lot of that data and there was physical work on the ground," said Hulley, who had worked with the Victorian Police, serving 13 years in uniformed and covert capacities, before focusing his efforts on Project Karma.
He cited data from Unicef, which showed that as many as two million children are used in the commercial sex trade and routinely face sexual and physical violence. The majority of those cases occur in East and Southeast Asia.
Data also showed that children from poor communities are most vulnerable to be abused. According to the World Bank, close to half a billion people still live on just $2 per day around the world.
Hulley, from traveling to areas where children are commonly sold to trafficking networks, identified eight countries and 20 areas in Southeast Asia that they plan to expand to in the future.
"Ultimately, over the next five years, we want to roll this project out to those areas and countries," he said, adding that Indonesia and the Philippines are among countries where Project Karma will soon begin working.
"It’s going to take a lot of funding and we don’t have that funding to start off with straight away, so we decided as a board that we would run a pilot model first. So we had to choose a location that we could run a pilot and fund it," he said.
Hulley said Bali specifically is an area that many children have been found to have been abused or trafficked.
"There are other locations in Indonesia that we’ll bring our model to that we see as being hot-spots as well. Batam is another one.
"There’s many articles that have been put in the media about Bali being the number one child sex tourism destination for Australian tourists. Geographically speaking, Australians are the most common tourists in Bali."
The Globe previously reported on cases involving the arrests of sex offenders over the last couple of years. Perhaps the most prominent involved 70-year-old Australian national Robert Andrew Fiddes Ellis, who was charged with sexually assaulting 11 underaged girls in Bali in September last year.
"About a million Australians go there every year. There’s been many articles written about Australians coming to these countries to commit crimes against children. So that was part of the reason that came to us when deciding to run our project in Bali," said Hulley, who has worked with NGO’s in Southeast Asia overseeing 10 investigation teams in Jakarta, Batam, Lombok and Bali in Indonesia and Manila, Cebu and Boracay in the Philippines.
He has also worked in Pokhara and Kathmandu in Nepal and Goa in India.
Hulley is currently working to garner support from numerous international and local law enforcement bodies, diplomats and embassies to expand Project Karma's scope. Unicef, the US Department of Homeland Security, the Australian Federal Police, the Philippine National Police and the Indonesian Police have already expressed support for the project.
In general, Project Karma's team establishes a liaison panel within local communities and coordinates with local governments and law enforcement agencies to combat child sexual exploitation and to prosecute perpetrators and offer counsel to children who have been abused or trafficked.
"This project is not just about catching bad guys and then rescuing children. If you don’t know what to do with the children afterwards, it’s not an effective project. So, a very large part of our focus and attention is the after-care of children and we network with a number of foundations in Bali and when we see that there are resources that are missing, we create them," he said.