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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- Amid increasing reports of physical abuses resulting in deaths in youth detention and correctional centres across the country, an Indonesian state commission has embarked on a national campaign to scrap detention and imprisonment of children altogether.
“We are closely guarding the ‘juvenile justice system’ bill, which lawmakers are now deliberating, to ensure that it contains no article allowing detention and imprisonment of children,” said Apong Herlina, a member of the eight-year-old Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI).
If enacted, the bill currently under deliberation in Indonesia’s House of Representatives would replace the old law No. 3, a 1997 bill on juvenile justice that supports trial for children coming into contact with the law.
The new bill wants child suspects to instead be placed in special rehabilitation centres during interrogation, trial, and the post-verdict period, effectively scrapping detention and imprisonment for children. The bill also strongly encourages the plaintiffs and defendants to continuously seek out-of- court settlements, particularly for petty crimes.
“The bill shows major improvements from the current juvenile justice system, however, we have to be vigilant as conflicts of interests among political parties in the House remain strong,” Herlina cautioned.
KPAI, tasked with improving child protection in the world’s fourth most populated country, has demonstrated its vigilance by embarking on a national campaign against detention and imprisonment of children.
The commission, according to Herlina, wants rehabilitation centres to be placed under the ministry of national education, while the government and their political backers want the centres to remain under the ministry of justice and human rights.
“We want to ensure that child ‘detainees’ and ‘inmates’ have access to education, health services, and leisure,” Herlina told IPS, adding that even if the national education ministry became responsible for the centres, the ministries of health, social affairs, religious affairs, and justice and human rights should also be involved in helping to rehabilitate child offenders.
The issue of child detention and imprisonment has come under the spotlight recently following reports of deaths and abuses taking place in police custody and correctional centers.
Last December, for example, two sibling detainees, aged 14 and 17 years respectively, were found dead in a police detention centre in Sijunjung, West Sumatra.
Local police have insisted that the two committed suicide, while the children’s parents and relatives believe they were killed. Less than three weeks later, a 15-year-old boy died in the Tulungagung correctional centre in East Java on Jan. 13 after being assaulted by fellow inmates.
Meanwhile, a 16-year-old boy in SoE, East Nusa Tenggara province spent almost three months in detention for allegedly stealing flowers before judges from the local court acquitted him of all charges in mid January.
“Detention and correctional centres are not good places for children. In fact, some children are worse off after spending time in detention or imprisonment,” says Herlina.
Over 4,000 children between the ages of 12 and 18 years old underwent legal processes throughout 2011, with charges ranging from theft, drug abuse and mass brawls, to assault and rape.
“The number of children prosecuted has decreased from around 7,000 in 2009 and 2010, as we intensify our campaigns against the detention and imprisonment of children,” she added. Studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Indonesia in 2002/2003 and 2006/2007 respectively show that over 5,000 children are incarcerated every year in Indonesia, over 85 percent of who are placed alongside adult inmates due to a lack of prison facilities for children.
The researches also revealed that more than 90 percent of cases of children coming into contact with the justice system end up being imprisoned, two-thirds of whom receive sentences of more than one year.
“Both studies found that Indonesia still hadn’t met the global standards for treatment of children within the justice system,” UNICEF Indonesia told IPS.
UNICEF also calls on Indonesia to minimise the option of detention and prioritise alternative forms of response such as “community mediation, community service, education, and increasing support for families.”
“Over 70 percent of children who are imprisoned with adults are known to re-offend when released, and there is global evidence that children who are imprisoned are affected by a range of psychological conditions that can further impact on their eventual rehabilitation,” UNICEF claims.
Indonesia has set the criminal age of responsibility at 12 years old and suspects aged between 12 and 18 years old are expected to be tried under the 1997 juvenile justice law and the 2002 child protection laws.
Unfortunately, children accused of committing crimes here are still charged under the adult criminal code, thanks to prevailing ignorance among police investigators, prosecutors, and judges overseeing children’s issues.
“The two laws require investigators, prosecutors, and judges to be knowledgeable about children’s issues. However, most law enforcers have little knowledge about children, (prompting) them to charge children under the criminal code,” said Syamsul Ridwan, secretary general of the National Commission for Child Protection, known by its Indonesian name Komnas Anak.
Ridwan also suggests that legal confusion may have contributed to children being charged under the criminal code.
“The juvenile justice law uses the word ‘wicked’ to refer to children coming into contact with the law, while the child protection law uses the words ‘children with special needs’,” Ridwan said.
So far, only Bandung in West Java has established a special courtroom and detention room for children. Local law enforcers have also been trained together on children’s issues and judges there tend to be more lenient in court.
KPAI is also seeking to change the title of the bill from ‘juvenile justice system’ to ‘protection system for children who come into contact with the law’.
“Its current title is biased against children, while our proposed title puts the emphasis on protection rather than the criminal acts,” said Herlina.
She admits that efforts to abolish detention and imprisonment of children are facing an uphill battle, where the first, and perhaps biggest, challenge comes from the public at large.
“Indonesians tend to be (discipline-oriented), they want to punish whoever commits crimes, be they children or adults,” she said, citing a recent incident in East Jakarta where community members threatened to burn down a local police office if authorities did not jail a 13-year-old boy for allegedly raping a five-year-old girl.
“(Still), we are optimistic that the public at large will endorse our campaigns and put pressure on lawmakers to scrap detention and imprisonment of children,” Herlina concluded.