Bill Could End Unjust Youth Trials in Indonesia

By webadmin on 09:34 pm Jun 29, 2012
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Ezra Sihite

A much-anticipated bill on juvenile courts is expected to be passed into law next week that should see an end to minors being brought before criminal courts for petty offenses.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin said on Wednesday that House of Representatives Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, would consider the bill on Tuesday for final approval.

“We hope the bill gets passed … so that we can guarantee legal certainty and rights protection for minors,” he said.

He added that among the key provisions of the bill was an obligation for the juvenile court to prioritize restorative justice over punitive measures.

“This means that the needs of the perpetrator, victim and the victim’s family must be considered in reaching a solution that is aimed at healing [rather than punishing],” Amir said.

The minister said one important point was that offenders younger than 12 years old would no longer be incarcerated. Another addresses the importance of respecting the minor’s privacy and prohibits the media from naming them in news reports.

Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, the Justice Ministry’s director general for human rights, said most of the minors caught up in the court system tended to be victims and were not treated well.

She said the bill would change that by ensuring that all their rights were respected. She added that one way was by giving jail sentences only for serious crimes.

“Never again will we hear of cases where a child has been jailed for stealing sandals or instant noodles,” she said.

Harkristuti also said prison guards who failed to release juvenile inmates on time would be punished, adding that this was a common complaint.

Linda Agum Gumelar, the minister for women’s empowerment and child protection, welcomed the planned passage of the bill, calling it a major step toward the proper treatment of juvenile offenders.

“Children deserve to get only simple punishments, not punishments that can destroy their future prospects,” she said.

Linda, who is also the chairwoman of the Indonesian Women’s Congress (KWI), said the bill would ensure guidance for the offenders of even the most serious offenses, such as murder or rape.

“That way, these children who come up against the law won’t be treated as criminals but will get guidance,” she said.

Calls for the bill to be passed quickly have mounted following a series of cases in which minors have been brought to trial and even abused over petty offenses.

In May last year, a 14-year-old boy in Central Jakarta was acquitted by a court of stealing a Rp 10,000 ($1.06) cellphone credit voucher, following a massive outcry over the fact that he had been held in an adult prison for three weeks and not allowed a lawyer during questioning.

In another case, an 11-year-old boy in South Sulawesi, was charged with accidentally hitting a local businessman’s house with a stone while trying to hit a bird.

The homeowner chased the boy down by motorcycle and hit him, then went on to press charges against the boy. Prosecutors ignored the assault charges filed against the businessman by the boy’s family.

In another case, a 17-year-old boy in Palu, Central Sulawesi, was similarly beaten and brought to trial after stealing a pair of sandals worth just Rp 30,000 from a police officer.

His parents alleged that the police forced a confession from the boy by beating him before his case went to court. Even though he was later convicted, the boy was returned to his parents’ custody. The officer who accused him was sentenced to 21 days in detention and given a one-year ban from promotion and a written warning.