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Mawar Saron Legal Aid Institution  is  a non-profit Organization which is  part of HOTMA SITOMPOEL FOUNDATION dedicates  itself  to  provide a pro bono legal  aid to  the  poor  and  financially  unfortunate,  and  also  abused  by  the  legal  system, ...


Interview with John Pattiwael: An Indonesian View of Juvenile Justice


"Started from the World Congress on Juvenile Justice event's at Geneva, Switzerland, in Januari 2015, Mawar Saron Legal Aid Institution Director's, Mr. John.I.M.Pattiwael, SH, had the opportunity to meet respectfully practicioners and experts on Juvenile Justice issues.

One of those institution who had the chance to sharing some discussion and knowledge with him is Youth Justice Wire, through a blog run by Liz Ryan to highlight the efforts to end the use of youth prisons / training schools, reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, eliminate the prosecution of youth in adult court, and stop the placement of youth in adult jails and adult prisons.

These are the interview that has been quoted from Youth Justice Wire website 

This interview is the second in the series from the recent World Congress on Juvenile Justice in Geneva, Switzerland, where I had the opportunity to meet juvenile justice experts from around the world. During the session on the worst abuses of childrens’ rights, I met John Pattiwael, who represented Indonesia at the conference. John is a public defender and a member of the Indonesian Advocates Association. He has written extensively and lectured at numerous seminars and conference about juvenile justice issues.

Here’s my interview with John Pattiwael:

What initially got you interested in juvenile justice?

Child-related issues have been a growing concern in Indonesia due to the fact that many children end up being jailed as the result of punitive/retributive justice system, and yet still the number of child-related cases grow and there’s no significant sign of deterrent effect impact toward the child perpetrator himself. The harsh punitive system clearly proved that the system failed to correct a child perpetrator upon their reintegration to society; in fact they’re becoming more volatile (this is due to the fact that Correctional Facilities in Indonesia have been in a stage of over capacity where adult prisoners and child prisoners are often mixed). Suffice to say that the prison has been a very good “school of crime” in which child perpetrators have been “educated” to become a better criminal instead of correcting them, considering the ironic fact that they’re being sent to prison for minor offences (e.g. petty theft, brawling).

On the other hand, there’s another issue at hand concerning the implementation of the new Juvenile Justice System. It was meant to reform Indonesian society to embrace the Restorative Justice Principle, which is actually introduced through familiar concept in Indonesian people implemented through Adat Law (Customary Law) and the role of religious institution (e.g. Church). The fact that Indonesian people have been exposed to a punitive justice system for so long, has made the society itself become violent and eroded the Adat Law & the religious institution itself. In the end, the victim of this punitive system is the children. This “alarming situation” is the basis of my concern on juvenile justice. Upon enactment of the new Indonesian Juvenile Justice System (Law No. 11 Year 2012), our Institution (Mawar Saron Legal Aid Institution) has been an active partner of the Directorate General of Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice & Human Rights of the Rep. of Indonesia to promote the new Juvenile Justice System in Indonesia. Through cooperation, I have the opportunity to promote the new Juvenile Justice law and to reform the mindset of law enforcement and society, though it’s still an ongoing process.

What are the most pressing issues, in your opinion, today in juvenile justice?

In my opinion, there are two pressing issues concerning Juvenile Justice in Indonesia which are to reform the mindset of law enforcement and the mindset of the society. As I have mentioned before, the practice of punitive/retributive justice in Indonesia has grown so deep into the culture, thus children in conflict with the law become the victim of the condition. Generally, Indonesian law enforcement is reluctant to implement the principle of best interest of the children, where incarceration of children is still practiced toward child perpetrators in Indonesia, especially at the police investigation stage. Another matter that must be resolved concerning law enforcement is the number of police officers specially prepared to handle child cases that is also low, hence the due process itself is taking a long period of time and in the meantime children in conflict with the law must endure incarceration whereas the new Juvenile Justice system in Indonesia clearly prohibits such action (pursuant to Art. 16 (3) Law No. 23/2002 on Child Protection & Art. 32 Law No. 11/2012 on Juvenile Justice System). It is necessary to increase the number of police officers specializing in child cases with a restorative justice paradigm in light of Indonesia’s geography as an archipelago state which consists of more than 17,000 islands.

There’s also a pressing issue on the mindset change of Indonesian society to re-embrace the restorative justice practice into their everyday life so that minor cases would not be processed through court/judicial process.

What areas / issues are you currently working on?

As a legal aid institution, we are concentrating our work in advocating on behalf of children in conflict with the law, child victim & child witness (pursuant to Art. 18 Law No. 23/2002 on Child Protection & Art. 23 (1) Law No. 11/2012 on Juvenile Justice System). Currently my office is organizing a research project & publishing a book on the protection of child victim & child witness. In April, 2015 we are organizing a study visit to various institutions related to children in Melbourne, Australia. The outcome of the study visit shall be incorporated in the book as a recommendation to the drafting team of Presidential Decree on the protection of child victim and child witness. We are also working with several Indonesian institutions to provide a free psychological assessment in relation to the reintegration process of child to the society and also rehabilitation from drug addiction.

What were your key takeaways from the World Congress on Juvenile Justice?

We must not treat children as perpetrators. On the contrary, we must treat children as a victim of society, family and environment that shaped them as such, so when we are facing a child case we must implement the best interest of the children’s principle in every aspect (including the elimination of incarceration practices).

The U.S. incarcerates more children than any other country in the world, what advice do you have on how the U.S. could reduce youth incarceration?

I am speaking from my experience on Indonesian “style” of law. It took only courage and resilience to implement the new Juvenile Justice law. The fact that US has not ratified the United Nation’s Convention on Children’s Right must not be a barrier to implement the best interest of the children’s principle. I must also emphasize that there is a significant difference on the culture, law enforcement and juvenile crime typology between the US and Indonesia, hence there has to be adjustment on how to treat child-related cases in the US.

In terms of incarceration, based on Indonesia’s experience, there has to be mindset change within law enforcement itself, to recognize that incarceration is absolutely not an option when handling child-related cases, as children will be in a worst position when they are incarcerated. Alternative measures may be implemented such as placing children in a social institution where they can get vocational education to better themselves and to prepare them for reintegration to society. The adage: “prison is the best school of crime” must be emphasized toward law enforcement so that alternative measure will be the solution. You could also include religious institution role as an alternative measure.

A German Theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer once said: “the test of the morality of a society, is what it does to its children” (ca. 1940)

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