Police Castigated over Trial of Thousand-Rupiah Theft Boy
Bali’s Police and prosecutors were heavily criticised this week after a 15-year-old boy stood trial in Denpasar for stealing Rp1,000 (11 US cents).
The affair follows other recent incidents regarded by many as evidence of police heavy-handedness in trivial cases, including that of another teen who stood trial in Sulawesi for stealing a pair of sandals that stoked national outrage.
In the current case, the boy, who was 14 at the time of his crime, and who has been identified only by his initials as DW in accordance with Indonesian child-protection laws, was prosecuted for theft with force after a failed snatch-and-grab attempt.
DW, who is originally from Bandung in West Java, and a friend, who has not yet been caught by police, committed their crime on March 27, 2011, on Jl Ahmad Yani Utara in Denpasar. While riding a motorbike, together with his accomplice DW snatched a handbag from another motorcyclist, Ni Kadek Susilawati.
As they attempted to flee the scene local pedestrians who had seen the crime blocked their way, toppling the duo from the bike. The friend, who has been named as Anong, fled on foot, but DW was caught and allegedly beaten by locals, before being handed over to West Denpasar Police. The handbag he had snatched contained only Rp1,000.
Police did not initially seek to prosecute the teen, ordering him simply to make regular reports to his local police station. He failed to do so, however, and when he was subsequently arrested a second time in a police round-up of young motorcyclists illegally racing their bikes on the streets of Denpasar on November 5, he was sent to Kerobokan Prison and a prosecution in relation to the earlier case was prepared.
During the two-day trial prosecutor Ni Wayan Erawati called for a seven-month jail term to be handed down by judges, markedly less than the maximum five-year sentence which could have been demanded.
“The crime the defendant committed could have endangered the victim and caused public unrest,” Erawati said.
However, the case came under sustained criticism from child protection groups and members of the public. In an echo of a peaceful protest campaign in which people delivered hundreds of worn-out rubber sandals to police stations across Indonesia in protest against the trial of the teenage sandal thief in Sulawesi, the Bali Institute for Child Protection started a campaign to donate Rp1,000 coins to the local police as a gesture of discontent.
Institute head Ni Nyoman Masni said that DW should never have been detained, given his age and the trivial nature of the crime.
“Based on restorative justice, with the evidence available, DW should never have been arrested,” she said, adding that there had been other cases in Bali of children being tried for minor offenses, including a nine-year-old from Gianyar who was jailed for stealing firecrackers, and another child who was imprisoned for stealing incense sticks.
She said that criminality amongst children was on the increase, but that prosecuting and jailing minors for trivial offenses was not necessary.
“If the case is serious, by all means process it; but if not, take pity on the children,” she said.
Seto Mulyadi of the National Commission for Child Protection also criticised DW’s detention and trial, after visiting the boy in Kerobokan Prison ahead of the trial.
“Jails are not appropriate places for children. Once a child is put in jail, the label of ‘thief’ will be difficult to erase,” he said, adding that across the country around 4,000 minors stood trial, usually for minor offences, each year.
He said that DW and other children who get into trouble should also be regarded as victims rather than serious criminals.
“They are victims of a negative environment, which allow them to fall into crime,” he said, adding that criminalising children in fact raised the chances of them committing more serious crimes in the future.
“Please don’t use this kind of punishment approach which may actually increase the child’s potential for future criminality,” he said.
The boy’s defence team, headed by Thesy Oktarini Siregar, have called for the lightest possible sentence to be issued by presiding judge Puji Harian.
DW’s father, Iswanto, said he hoped his son would be released so he could return to school.
“I just want him to be back in school. It has now been three months since he was last in school,” he said, adding that he believed his son had been led astray by Anong.
“After the incident I noticed that his behaviour had changed, and that had started when he became friends with someone called Anong,” he said, speaking to reporters outside the court on Monday.
Ismanto said that before his crime DW had always been well behaved, both when the family was living in Bandung, and after they moved to Denpasar for Ismanto’s work.
“He was quiet and diligent, always said his prayers, and had done so since childhood,” he said.
During the earlier police investigation DW had told officers that he had met Anong about two weeks before the attempted mugging, and had been forced to take part in the crime by his new friend. He said that Anong had accused him of stealing his shoes, and demanded that he rob someone else as a means of compensation.
During the closing hearing of the trial on Tuesday, judge Harian declared DW guilty, but did not issue an additional jail term.
“DW is to be returned to his parents,” Harian said, adding that he believed the boy had been motivated by a number of factors when committing his crime, including a lack of parental supervision, difficult financial circumstances, and having fallen into a negative environment.
Harian said that his sentencing decision was based on Joint Ministerial Decree Number Three of 22 December 2009, which asked judges to try to avoid custodial sentences for minors.
“The defendant is to be returned to his parents in accordance with the principles of juvenile restorative justice which places an emphasis on coaching, teaching, and rehabilitation of child victims, perpetrators, and witnesses,” he said.
Iswanto expressed relief at the verdict.
“We are delighted to have our son back. Our son can now become a better student than he used to be,” he said, adding that he expected DW to return immediately to school.Filed under: Headlines