SPECIAL REPORT: Indonesia challenged in preparing centres for juvenile offenders

Prodita Sabarini in Jakarta/The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia's 2012 Juvenile Justice System Law is slated go into effect in July of next year if all implementing regulations are stipulated on-time. Then, rulings for juvenile offenders as "children of the state", which are children who are placed in child detention centres under the State's care until they turn 18, will no longer exist.

Juvenile offenders, who carried out a crime with a penalty of less than seven years, will instead be returned to their families, assigned to community service or placed in social welfare centres under the Social Affairs Ministry or regional social agencies.

While social workers embrace the restorative justice approach for juvenile delinquents, there is a sense of apprehension on how best to accommodate juvenile offenders in rehabilitation centres. "There is a quite heavy risk for us," said Syaiman, head of the Taruna Jaya Youth Education Centre in Tebet, South Jakarta.

Syaiman was sitting in his office at the Taruna Jaya Youth Centre. The centre is located in a greenery-filled area of Tebet, secluded with its own road entrance from Jl. Tebet Barat Raya. At the moment, the centre that provides vocational skills for young school drop-outs supports 70 children from poor families in Jakarta. The screeching sound of welding from one of the vocational classes lightly floats in the air.

"We've been informed by the Social Affairs Ministry about the new policy," he said. "But, we need time to prepare all the necessary arrangements," he added.

"It would be impossible to immediately transfer children from detention centres to be placed here. We have to prepare the infrastructure and there are different treatments for neglected children and children of the state. That's not to say that we're moving the detention centre here, but we need to take precautions so that [children] don't escape," he said.

Syaiman added that if a child escapes, he would be legally responsible.

The change in the juvenile justice system in Indonesia is bringing new development in dealing with juvenile delinquency. The 2012 law on juvenile justice system replaces the 1997 juvenile court system deemed unaccommodating to children's rights. The new law increased the age of children who could be processed through the judiciary system for criminal offense from 8 to 12-years-old. Furthermore, only children over the age of 14 are allowed to be taken into custody. Imprisonment is the last resort according to the law on juvenile justice system, and diversion or an out of court settlement is highly advised.

Another change is the elimination of the status child of the state, a form of rehabilitative punishment for juvenile offenders who could not be returned to the community for reasons such as not having any relatives and other reasons under judge's discretion. A child of the state is under the care of the state in the juvenile detention centre until he reaches the young adult age of 18. Currently, there are 115 such "childs of the state" in Indonesia.

The Social Affairs Ministry subdivision head in charge of children facing the law, Puti Hairida, said that a year after the juvenile justice system in Indonesia has been in effect, children of the state should no longer be in prisons. The restorative justice approach to juvenile delinquency means that the Social Affairs Ministry has a bigger task with the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders than the Law and Human Rights Ministry. Hairida is candid in saying that the mandate given to her ministry is a tough one.

"Within five years, we have to set up social welfare centres for children in each province in Indonesia," she said. Currently, the ministry only has four centres - in Jakarta, East Nusa Tenggara, South Sulawesi and Central Java - for rehabilitation of juveniles. Each region has its own social affairs agency.

However, presently, the regional social welfare centres are entirely for neglected children from marginalised communities, such as orphans, street children, children of poor families who have dropped out of school and children dealt with psychotropic drugs.

Hairida said that the government would utilise existing social welfare centres in regions and religious institutions to accept child offenders who have been referred to social welfare centres. She did not specify the budget needed to set up the social welfare centres and the human resources needed for preparing the child-centred juvenile rehabilitation process. But, Ucu Rahayu, head of Jakarta Social Agency's children rehabilitation, said that operational costs for one social welfare centre in her region was 2 billion rupiah (US$208,486).

Like Syaiman, Rahayu said that they needed to think about how to ensure that the children would stay in the centres. "Our centres are very open, they can carry out their activities outside the centre and interact with the community," she said. "The centres do not have tall gates, while these children [child offenders] do need some kind of tight surveillance," she added.

Syaiman said that sometimes, the children at Taruna Jaya would ask permission to go outside of the centre's compound to buy snacks. "But, sometimes they just say that to trick us and they just don't return," he said.

"For children who believe that they are not guilty of their crime, they would not want to stay in a place against their will," he said.

Hairida said that there would be challenges in transferring the children from a detention cell to an open social centre. "Creating a comfortable atmosphere would not be easy. There will be children who would rebel, especially, a lot of them think that they have done nothing wrong," she said.

But, Hairida said that one thing for adults to keep in mind is: "It's not their fault that they are in this position. They are victims too ... It's our fault as adults," she said.