Life, interrupted: When children face the law

Recent brawls among high school students left two dead in separate incidents in the city, leading to an outcry on how the chronic problem might be overcome.The Jakarta Post‘s Prodita Sabarini filed the following reports. 

In a movie plot, a murder suspect on the run being caught would be the climax of a police chase scene. But rarely is it the end of the story.

Fitra Rahmadani, 19, who police suspect to be the culprit in the death of Alawy Yusianto Putra, 15, a first-year student caught up in the decades-old warring tradition between two elite South Jakarta state schools, SMA 70 and SMA 6, last month, was arrested last Thursday.

Police found him in a rented room in Sleman, Yogyakarta. Detectives allege that Fitra stabbed Alawy with a sickle during a brawl between students of the two high schools
on Sept. 24.

Two days after Alawy’s death, another teenager, Deni Yanuar lost his life in a brawl in Manggarai, Jakarta, between SMK Yayasan Karya 66 and SMK Kartika Zeni vocational school students. Police have also arrested suspects in Deni’s murder.

Alawy’s killing has become the country’s highest profile criminal case involving students. It has brought the old issue of violent high school rivalry to the fore once again.

But the deaths of Alawy and Deni and Fitra’s arrest not only raise the issue of unchecked school rivalries. The police investigations, which include minors being named as witnesses and subject to police interrogation, also raise the issue of the rights of children facing the law.

Juvenile delinquency in Indonesia has continued to rise each year. The government Commission on Child Protection (KPAI) has reported that each year around 7,000 children come before the law and that 80 percent end up convicted and sentenced to prison.

The National Commission on Child Protection (Komnas PA), a non-governmental organization focusing on child’s rights reported that in the first quarter of this year there were 2,008 cases of juvenile crimes. Komnas PA said that they found 2,508 cases last year, higher than the 2,413 cases in 2010.

The House of Representatives this year passed a law on juvenile justice, which aims to protect children’s rights during the criminal investigation process. The new law replaces the old 1997 Law on juvenile courts and promotes restorative justice for children facing the law. The new law also rules that only children above the age of 12 can be criminally processed; but only those 14 and over can be detained. Implementing regulations for the new law, however, have yet to be issued. Nevertheless, Indonesian children are protected by the 2002 Law on child protection. Indonesia has also ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Being 19, Fitra would not be eligible for the protections entailed in the child protection law.

Jakarta Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said that anyone questioned by them had provided their own defense counsel, in line with the law that minors be accompanied by legal representatives when dealing with the authorities. The South Jakarta Police have so far questioned all of the 15 students of SMA 70 allegedly involved in the brawl.

In the absence of defense counsel during the legal processes any charges made against minors should be annulled, Komnas PA chairman Arist Merdeka Sirait said.

The high profile character of the SMA 70 — SMA 6 student brawl case will almost certainly ensure public scrutiny of the police investigation process. For instance, the Jakarta Working Group on Child Protection Seto Mulyadi reportedly plans to visit Fitra.

High-profile cases where the child has access to legal representation, such as the case of A, 14, who was charged with partaking in the murder of a father and son in Bojong Gede, Bogor, could see the possibility of the child actually undertaking restorative justice. Komnas PA provided legal assistance to A during his legal process. Arist said that in the end A was sent to a rehabilitation center for seven years.

“He did not end up in prison, he can still go to school,” he said. A’s school was also outside the rehabilitation center, so he was not confined to a cell, Arist said.

But in smaller and less publicized cases, children are at risk of being abused and even tortured during investigations. They also face the risk of being denied their rights to a legal defense and to a fair trial.

A damning report by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) on violations of children’s rights when facing the law showed that most juvenile offenders in Greater Jakarta experienced torture by the police. LBH Jakarta carried out a survey between January 2011 to 2012 on 100 children detained at the Tangerang correctional facility for male and female juvenile offenders as well as the Pondok Bambu prison in East Jakarta.

From the findings of the survey, the LBH concluded that “torture was institutionalized”, which meant that intentional acts of physical and psychological harm were carried out by state officials or under the orders of state officials, with the purpose of discrimination or extracting information or confessions.

Nearly all respondents said they experienced torture during arrest and police interrogations and more than 70 percent during incarceration.

Apart from being yelled at and being lied to, they had their hair pulled, had guns pointed at them, were burnt by cigarettes and stripped naked. One respondent said has was shot at, and six said they were electrocuted. Respondents also reported rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

“Our finding shows that the main perpetrators [of torture] are the police. The intensity of forms of torture are no different form those experienced by adults,” Restaria Hutabarat, LBH Jakarta’s head of research division said. LBH Jakarta has also released a report on police brutality. According to LBH data, the number of wrongful arrests and officers allegedly torturing people during questioning increased to 75 percent in 2011 from 66.7 percent in 2010.

Many of the juvenile offenders sentenced to prison come from low-income families whose parents work in the informal sector. The findings also shatter the myth that most juvenile crime is carried out by street children; Restaria said more than 90 percent of juvenile offenders were living with their parents and were still in school.

Syahri “Koko” Ramadhan, 19, was one such victim of police brutality. In 2009, when he was still 15, his neighborhood leader reported him to the police for allegedly stealing his laptop and handphone. Police arrested him and to make him confess, Koko said police beat him up. Koko only lasted three days of such interrogation. “I thought to myself, how can I make them stop? So, I made up a story and pretended that I stole the stuff,” he said. Syahri was released without charge as the real perpetrator was caught and confessed that he was the thief.

Syahri’s uncle Hermiansyah said that police told Koko’s mother that she should provide money if she wanted her son to be released. Koko is now suing the police for torture and wrongful arrest.

Rikwanto said the police followed the laws on child protection and on juvenile courts when dealing with juvenile offenders. Commenting on the LBH’s finding on police torture, he said that interrogations were standard procedures that the police carried out. He said that people might perceive the interrogation methods as harsh. “But police officers have a duty to produce dossiers,” he said.

Commenting on restorative justive, where children are placed under Social Affairs Ministry monitoring or returned to their parents, Rikwanto said that it all depended on the type of crime. “If the children commit a serious crime, then they have to be prosecuted,” he said.

Apong Herlina, deputy head of KPAI, however said that sending children to prison was not the answer to juvenile delinquency. She said that children’s prisons should be abolished altogether and that regional administrations should be responsible for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. “A lot of prisons in Indonesia are not child friendly. They are overcrowded, the children mix with adults, there’s not much rehabilitation,” said Apong, the former head of LBH Jakarta.

Arist also said imprisoning children should be the last resort. “Prisons are like a school for criminals, they learn more about crime and risk coming out of prison being proud of their status as ex-convicts”.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Fri, October 05 2012

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