The House of Representatives passed a completely overhauled draft of the Juvenile Court Law on Tuesday, marking the start of what the government said would be fairer treatment for minors caught up in the justice system.
Amir Syamsuddin, the justice and human rights minister, welcomed the passage of the bill at a plenary session of the House, saying it was a much-needed improvement over the previous legislation from 1997 that “was no longer suited to the needs and developments in the justice system.”
“That’s why it was important that we have this new law in place,” he told the plenary session.
Azis Syamsuddin, deputy chairman of House Commission III on legal affairs, said legislators were very thorough and careful in their deliberations on the legislation because the principle of restorative justice that it prioritized over punitive justice was unprecedented in Indonesia’s legal system.
In addition to promoting restorative justice, in which 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, the new law also raises the minimum age at which juvenile offenders may be incarcerated to 14 years old.
The previous law set the limit at 12 years old.
Another key provision is that charges that carry a maximum sentence of less than seven years do not have to brought to trial and can instead be resolved outside the court.
The law also sets strict limits on the length of time that a juvenile offender may be remanded in police custody, and identifies several interrogatory, investigative and detention-related measures that amount to criminalization of a minor.
Another important change to the 1997 law is a prohibition on legal authorities publishing details of a court case involving a minor. A further provision prescribes punishment for officials found to have violated any of the protections provided in the law.
The law also gives the government five years in which to prepare juvenile detention centers to end the current practice of minors being locked up with adult offenders.
“We hope that the government will be serious about providing the necessary manpower and resources required for the law to be a success,” Azis said.
Last week, Amir said the imminent passage of the bill would “guarantee legal certainty and rights protection for minors.”
Legal advocates have long criticized Indonesia’s lack of a justice system specifically designed for young offenders, against whom law enforcers often use a punitive approach.
The 2002 Child Protection Law stipulates that detention should only be used as a last resort and that out-of-court settlements should be prioritized.
But the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Jakarta) found in a study in April that in 71 percent of cases observed, the police and prosecutors did not seek a settlement out of court.
The study, based on from interviews with 100 juvenile offenders at Tangerang Penitentiary in Banten and Pondok Bambu Juvenile Penitentiary in Jakarta between January 2010 and January 2012, showed that only 9 percent had access to lawyers, 74 percent shared their cells with adult offenders and 98 percent had reported torture.
Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, the Justice Ministry’s director general for human rights, said last week that most minors caught up in the court system tended to be victims and were not treated well.
She said the new law 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.