|When a child is accused of a crime, the police tries to use mediation to resolve the situation and in more than half of the case, it works. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi|
They were held for 24 hours at the children’s unit at the police station while their families as well as the heads of the villages where they lived were contacted. The victim’s family and village head were also asked to attend the police station where all the parties sat down to talk.
This is a process known as mediation. Police records don’t show how long it took in this instance, but officers say on average its takes three mediation sessions to resolve a case.
The families talked about the situation and tried to come to an agreement about how the perpetrators should be punished. In the end, the families of the three boys agreed to pay the medical expenses of the victim within ten days, or face a court case. The three were then released.
Ten years ago, the police had no mandate to facilitate a mediation like this. The boys would have been facing a trial and a maximum jail sentence of five years. Children used to be treated much like adults when they were accused of committing an offense or a crime. But since the tsunami struck the area on the 26th of December 2004, Indonesia’s Aceh province has made huge strides in how it deals with children who come into contact with the law.
|Adjutant Commissioner Elfiana was the first recruit to the women and children’s unit in Aceh’s Provincial Police. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi|
In the chaos that followed the tsunami, around 3,000 children were left orphaned or separated from their parents and soon, rumours abounded that some of them became victims of human trafficking. Although the police had already begun to take steps towards creating a special women and children’s unit, in the aftermath of the tsunami they accelerated the process and started a real revolution which brought about fundamental changes in the entire judicial process relating to children in Aceh.
With help from UNICEF, police officers working in the new unit were trained in how to deal with children both as victims of crimes and as suspects.
“I was taught how to interview children in a way that wouldn’t re-traumatise them,” says Elfiana, Adjutant Commissioner of Aceh police, and the first recruit to the women and children’s unit in 2005. “I also learned how to empathise with children in order to gain their trust.”
Although Elfiana works in Banda Aceh, she has colleagues across the province who are trained to deal with children. In the first eight months of 2014, they have dealt with more than 60 cases where a child was a victim and 36 in which a child was a suspect.
Now, when a child is accused of a crime, the police tries to use mediation to resolve the situation and in more than half of the cases, it works. Only the most serious cases are taken further and even then, conditions for children have improved.
Djuwita has acted as defence counsel for dozens of children at Banda Aceh court in recent years. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi
Children accused of serious crimes must now have a defence lawyer to represent them. Ibu Djuwita from the Restorative Justice Working Group has acted as defence counsel for dozens of children in recent years.
“Even in the most serious cases, children are not held in adult cells at the police station anymore, and they’re treated with greater care and understanding by the police,” she says.
It’s rare for a child to have to defend themselves in court.
“The trial process is a last resort,” says Ainal Mardiah, the Chief of Jantho District Court.
District Court Judge Ainal Mardiah at her office. Aceh has become a pioneer for the rest of Indonesia in the area of juvenile justice. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi
For those children who do have to face trial, special child-friendly courtrooms have been established. These are usually smaller than adult courtrooms. The furniture is shaped with rounded corners and all the parties sit closer together. There are sometimes cartoons or posters on the walls and the judge wears normal clothes instead of the usual red and black gown.
Aceh province has been a pioneer for the rest of Indonesia in the area of juvenile justice. The progress achieved on making courtrooms more child-friendly helped pave the way for the introduction of a national Juvenile Criminal Justice System Law which came into effect on the 1st of August 2014, following years of advocacy by UNICEF.
This national legislation obliges law enforcement officers across the country to receive training in how to deal with children. It also increases the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years and the age of children receiving custodial sentences from 12 to 14 years.
The juvenile justice trail-blazers in Aceh are pleased to see other parts of Indonesia following their lead.
“I felt putting the best interests of children first was something that I needed to do,” says district court judge Ainal Mardiah. “I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made.”
For those children who do have to face trial, special child-friendly courtrooms like this one have been established to make the children feel more at ease. © UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Achmadi