Internet facilitates illegal kidney trade

Thomas, 30, said mounting debt forced him to take the desperate step of selling a kidney on the internet for 300 million rupiah (US$32,400).

"I have to take my chances because that's the only way I can get the money to pay off my debt," Thomas, who declined to give his surname, told IRIN by telephone.

Thomas is one of the increasing number of Indonesians who offer their kidneys for sale on free web sites because of poverty and debt.

A Google search reveals an increasing number of websites containing "Kidney for sale" advertisements in the Indonesian language.

"I'm a 25-year-old man. I want to sell my kidney for 400 million rupiah. I need money to pay for my mother's hospital treatment," read an ad on

"It's a cliché, but I really need money to pay for living expenses of two children," said another person, who goes by the name Budha in an ad on

"With sincerity and the need to make a living, let me offer my kidney to sell. Price is negotiable," Budha said in English.

According to a survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in March 2009, 32.5 million Indonesians, or 14.15 percent of the population of 230 million, live below the poverty line. Indonesia's poverty rate dropped 1.3 percent in 2009 from 15.4 percent the previous year, according to the bureau.

Organ trafficking fears

Officials said the scale of illegal organ trafficking in Indonesia was not known, but the internet phenomenon had raised concerns about the scourge.

Subagyo Partodiharjo, a doctor and member of a parliamentary commission on health affairs, said some of those who posted the internet ads were brokers who talked poor people into selling their kidneys.

He said they could be part of illegal organ trading rings operating in villages.

"This is clearly illegal trade. This is not only an issue of poverty but also criminal," Partodihardjo told IRIN.

"People were told their kidneys are expensive and because they are poor or in debt, they are tempted to sell them," he said.

Photo: Jual Ginjal cepat
I am offering one of my kidneys for Rp 200,000,000 (negotiable), because I desperately need money. If your friend or relative needs one, please contact me

Indonesia's new Health Law, passed in October 2009, bans organ trading, with offenders facing up to 10 years in prison or a fine of one billion rupiah if found guilty.

The law states that organ transplants can only be carried out for humanitarian purposes.

A Singapore court in 2008 convicted two Indonesian men of selling their kidneys, in what the media described as the first such case in the city state.

Partodiharjo said it was hard to enforce the ban because organ trading was largely unmonitored.

Health issues

"If the other kidney is healthy, the person can live normally as long as he leads a healthy lifestyle. But if it's bad, that person will be in trouble," Partodiharjo said.

Thomas said he was ready for any consequences resulting from living with only one kidney.

"I have thought it over. I haven't asked a doctor yet but I heard that people can live long with only one kidney," he said.

Thomas, who lives in the city of Balikpapan on Borneo island, said he received many phone calls from people who also wanted to sell their kidneys, asking if he had managed to sell his.

"I was told that some people sold their kidney for as much as 500 million rupiah," he said.

Global problem

National police spokesman Edward Aritonang said in practice, determining whether an organ donation was for commercial or humanitarian purposes was not easy.

"They are considered as donors, as long as it's their own healthy kidney, approved by doctors and doesn't pose a danger to the patients," Aritonang told IRIN.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the shortage of organs is a global problem, with potential recipients travelling outside their home country to obtain organs through sometimes illegal commercial transactions.

Only 10 percent of the estimated need was met in 2005. As a result, the illegal kidney trade has increased tremendously over the past few of years, although the extent of illegal kidney transplants is unknown.