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CRIME IN INDONESIA - Should I worry?

This is from a film scene rather than a real event but bag snatching does happen in Indonesia – be aware!

There is crime in big Indonesian cities - but with sensible prudence you won't be touched by it

Exploring Indonesia

This FREE, 10-part GUIDE tells you stuff you need to know to enjoy easy, safe independent or group travel in Indonesia with a minimum of fuss.
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Like big urban centres everywhere, the cities and bigger towns of Indonesia experience their share of petty, non-violent crime – thefts, drugs, commercial sex and some limited gambling.

This despite hardline anti-drugs enforcement and long-held policies outlawing any forms of gambling.

The worst of this low-level crime is typically confined to (often vibrant) entertainment and bar districts and unless you seek it out you are most unlikely to be touched by it.

There are seedy areas in the bigger cities and occasional ‘no-go’ districts with a lot of poor and unemployed who will steal or commit other petty crimes to survive.

You need to be aware of pickpockets and bag snatchers in heavily trafficked pedestrian areas and scams by ‘unofficial’ taxis. (Metered taxis are increasingly becoming the norm in most cities, but you may need to remind the driver to turn on the meter.)

You also may be approached and chatted up by locals. Mostly, it’s just people being friendly and wanting to practice their English, especially young people.

But if you suspect the approach is from a con artist politely excuse yourself because you are “running late” and move on.

Many urban homes in Indonesia are locked with grated windows against burglary (just as they are in the inner suburbs of big cities everywhere).

And as in your home country, hotels, shopping centres, offices, factories and the like are routinely protected by 24/7 security staff.

But overall, Indonesian cities are much less dangerous and frightening than the inner areas of many of the cities of the United States, Australia, Europe and many other Asian countries.

And the kampungs (villages) and countryside generally are lakes of tranquility.

Security staff at entry to an Indonesian business – the sign says visitors must open their car window or helmet visor.

The international numbers that tell the real story

The available statistics bear all this out – the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes ranks 192 countries in terms of the most ‘intentional homicides’ per 100,000 people.

Indonesia ranks way down at 184 – the same as Austria and Norway and with even fewer intentional killings than places like Japan and Hong Kong.

But get this – Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, the Netherlands, France and the USA all have MORE such killings per capita than Indonesia!

You can check gthe UN data HERE.

Figures from the World Economic Forum and the Global Institute for Peace include natural disasters along with terror attacks, war, crime, muggings and the road toll to come up with an International Safety Ranking.

Indonesia, even with its periodic volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, comes in at number 62 out of 160 countries, only marginally ‘less safe’ than Belgium (48) the USA (49) and Malaysia (51). See the table HERE.

Almost 16 million tourists visited Indonesia in 2018 (up from 8.3m in 2013). It’s highly unlikely that more than a tiny handful experienced any kind of crime or ever felt threatened.

Rigorous enforcement on guns and drugs

The objective international safety rankings are not surprising – Indonesia rigorously enforces gun ownership restrictions and strong anti-drug laws.

Convicted drug traffickers face the death sentence, and definitions of trafficking are very broad.

Emerging organized illegal gambling – often regarded as a catalyst for criminal activity – was forcibly shut down in February 2005 and has largely stayed that way.

A mugging can make front page news in Indonesia, especially if a foreigner is the victim. Can you imagine a street crime making the front pages of a newspaper in Washington DC, New York or even Sydney?

Violence involving Western visitors is particularly rare and where it happens the authorities will crack down hard – they are conscious of the importance of protecting their international image at a time when the Government is working hard to attract more foreign visitors and investment.

But culture, tradition and values probably play a bigger part than enforcement or punishment.

Contrary to widely held popular belief, the Muslim faith – the world’s second largest religion - teaches giving, tolerance, non-violence and peace as core values.

It is sinful to kill ANY other person except in self-defence – the view that it’s OK to kill non-Muslims is the preserve of a coterie of extremist ISLAMISTS.

And this group is repudiated by the conservative and inherently non-violent, broader Indonesian society.

However, the cultural importance of FACE and honour, a history of nation-building through commerce, religion and culture rather than military might or conquest, and the sharing traditions of Kampung communities probably helped shape the non-violent values of Indonesian society long before the spread of Islam from around 700 years ago.

Anti-corruption campaign making an impact

Like much of the rest of Asia and the developing world, Indonesia’s big-ticket crime relates to corruption, with fraud, bribery and graft tarnishing commerce, the bureaucracy and politics.

To its credit Indonesia established a special Anti-Corruption Commission Commission in 2002. Though under-resourced, by 2017 it had convicted 119 members of Parliament and 17 corrupt regional Governors and had jailed 130 corrupt police. 

It is continuing to expose and prosecute cases involving tens of millions of dollars siphoned out of public funds.

While this is having an impact, it likely will be a long time before Indonesia climbs far from its 89th ranking (out of 175 countries) in the 2018 Transparency International Corruption Index.

Corruption can also be at the core of the civil disturbances that periodically make headlines – it’s common knowledge that many taking part in “spontaneous political mass demonstrations” are often paid for their participation.

But these events are limited to locals, including any casualties.

Though corruption remains a serious and difficult issue for Indonesia, apart from traffic disruptions and noise, it is unlikely to have a direct impact on you as a visitor.

Fake "Luois Vuitton" bags on offer at a market stall
Pirated videos and software are widely sold

Counterfeit products - it's business as usual

Another major crime worry in Indonesia, as elsewhere in Asia, is the production and sale of counterfeit, fake or pirated consumer goods.

This goes beyond the usual counterfeit music, movie videos and computer software to copies of the up-market clothing, bags and other fashion items of leading international brands, perfumes, foods, cosmetics and even pharmaceuticals.

Despite the efforts of international and Indonesian regulators, counterfeiting and intellectual property theft persists, powered by the steadily rising affluence of a massive domestic market of 270 million.

Depending on personal scruples, for you as a visitor, this all may seem to offer opportunities to buy cheap (but often well made) ‘knock-offs’ of leading brand products.

But be aware you might face questions if transiting countries like Singapore or on re-entering your home country.

You also may find that computer games, software or pirated movies may not work or play on the hardware available in your part of the world.

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