With a new bill on juvenile courts expected to become law next week, hopefully we will see the end of children involved in minor offenses being dragged through the courts and sent to languish in adult prisons.
No longer will we read about an 11-year-old boy being charged with “unpleasant conduct” after accidentally hitting a local businessman’s house with a stone while trying to hit a bird.
As Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Linda Agum Gumelar has noted, the bill is a major step toward the proper treatment of young offenders.
“Children deserve to get only simple punishments, not punishments that can destroy their future prospects,” she said.
In most countries, children younger than 16 years old who commit a crime are dealt with by youth courts, even if serious offenses are committed. In Indonesia, up to now, children have been treated as adults by the judicial system.
One of the key provisions in the bill is an obligation for the court to prioritize restorative justice over punitive measures. This focus on rehabilitation is critical as children will receive a second chance at life to correct their behavior. Society must not judge them too harshly and incarcerate them unnecessarily.
While the new law is highly welcomed, the process cannot stop there. Schools, parents and other institutions must play important roles in helping children to mend their ways. More rehabilitation centers must be set up, manned by trained professionals.
Society must adopt a different approach to tackling this issue and the new bill will be a good first step toward this end. Young offenders are victims as much as they may be perpetrators of crimes.