|UNICEF’s child protection unit has been working to ensure children’s rights by making the Banda Aceh justice system more child-friendly.|
By Steve Nettleton
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, December 2007 – With the pounding of a gavel, the judge hands down her sentence for Nuzulfadli, 17, who is on trial for stealing a motorcycle. No jail time is demanded.
Instead, Nuzulfadli, is ordered to report to a social worker. His uncle, the closest surviving member of his family, is told to watch over his nephew more closely.
This is a new kind of court, one very different from the adult court faced until recently by most young people who were caught up in the legal system. This juvenile court, built with support from UNICEF, is the first of its kind in Aceh. It was designed to provide a more child-friendly environment, with more privacy and a colour scheme to put children at ease, and furnished with desks and chairs that are appropriate to their size.
Freedom from fear
Nuzulfadli (not his real name) lost his parents and all his brothers and sisters in the 2004 tsunami. He was arrested in June 2006, and held in a prison cell at the police station, where he says he was treated harshly by police.
But his situation changed when his case came to trial in the new court.
“In the other court I felt scared because of the environment, scared of the judge and the tone of his voice,” said Nuzulfadli. “But when I came to the second court, I felt more relaxed.”
Setting up a new system
This courtroom is one part of a UNICEF effort to build a juvenile justice system that provides special treatment for children – one in which sending young people to jail is a last resort.
“There should be a separate system and facilities particularly suited for children. This has a psychological effect on the judge when handing out sentences, and influences the child as well,” said the Chief Judge in the Banda Aceh State Court, Mas Hushender. “In the regular court the child feels he’s being treated as an adult, and it’s very scary for children. If you have a child-friendly court it feels warmer, with family members present.”
UNICEF has worked to train judges, prosecutors and police officers, and has helped formulate a proposed new legal code to address the needs of vulnerable children. It has also helped set up women’s and children’s desks at police stations across Aceh, focusing on the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of women and children.
Judges trained to deal with children
The juvenile court’s two judges specialize in cases involving children. A child suspected of being involved in unlawful activities is assisted by a legal advisor with a parent present during the trial. To date, 18 children have been tried by the new court, mostly in cases involving suspicion of stealing.
“Today, children can enjoy a separate process, child-friendly, based on respect of their diversity, their vulnerability, but also centred on the respect of their rights,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Roberto Benes.
It is a process that is sparing more young people in post-tsunami Aceh the full weight of the law, and giving them a chance to restore their childhood.
The tsunami, three years on