The Strange Case of ‘Illegal Logger,’ Aged 15

Another strange case of misdirected justice has caught the attention of Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar.

While visiting a penitentiary in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, on Wednesday, the minister met 15-year-old Riawan who was jailed for alleged illegal logging after a forest ranger found him carrying a piece of wood out of the jungle.

“This is strange, a child that young was arrested immediately, was immediately named a suspect,” Patrialis said, adding that he had asked police to review the case before proceeding.

Riawan’s case comes more than a year after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for reforms in the treatment of juvenile delinquents, saying that 90 percent of the children who ended up incarcerated were either unaware that they were committing a crime or were simply out of options and desperate.

Yudhoyono also approved a proposal for 500 young prisoners to be pardoned, but the Jakarta Globe later found that only 50 were immediately given full pardons.

“Based on the Child Protection Law, trial and jail for children is the last resort. The first option should be rehabilitating children and educating them, making sure they do not repeat the mistake,” said Kristin Tambunan, a legal aid lawyer.

The lawyer added that she doubted Riawan was an illegal logger based on the fact that he was caught carrying a piece of wood out of the jungle.

“In a place like Kendari, it is very common for children to be already working or collecting branches from the forest,” Kristin said.

“Even if he was working for an illegal logging syndicate, that doesn’t mean he knew what he had gotten himself into.”

Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Children Protection (Komnas Anak), also regretted the police’s hasty decision to put Riawan behind bars. “Even more concerning, he was jailed with adults, because Kendari doesn’t have a special place for juvenile delinquents,” Arist said.

Prison would only be a crime school for children and teenagers because they would encounter many hardened criminals there. Arist said.

“Now that Pak Patrialis has seen the kid in jail, the minister should immediately help the boy with rehabilitation and save him from the bad influence of prison,” he said.

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