A community in eastern Indonesia has placed 1,000 pink adeniums outside the local parliament, police station and courtroom, not to say thanks, but to send a message: Leave our kids alone.
In recent weeks, Indonesians outraged by reports of children arrested for petty crimes — some of whom were later beaten by police — have been mocking law enforcers with flowers, coins and even used footwear.
Police are locking up children for minor misdemeanors, while rampant official corruption and theft of millions in public funds is often punished with just a slap on the wrist, protesters and rights advocates say.
“There is a culture of arrogance in the police force and it is completely unprofessional to go after children,” said Neta Pane, director of the campaign group Indonesia Police Watch.
“Indonesians are getting very angry about how police focus on tedious crimes, while politicians and businesspeople walk free from big corruption cases,” Pane said.
Earlier this month, Indonesians across the country dumped more than 1,200 pairs of sandals, flip-flops and slippers at collection points after a teenager was arrested and beaten by police for stealing an officer’s worn-out sandals.
The story of the 15-year-old boy, who faced a stiff jail sentence, turned into a cause celebre. The case goes to the heart of widespread public perception that the real criminals are getting away with it, Pane said.
Days after the sandals campaign, children’s rights activists began collecting coins to draw attention to the trial in Bali of a teenager accused of stealing a wallet containing 1,000 rupiah (US$0.11),
The 1,000 flowers were sent in another case, that of a 16-year-old boy charged with stealing and selling eight adeniums from his aunt’s garden in the city of Soe, on the Indonesian part of Timor Island.
The orphan said he sold the flowers for US$1 each to raise money for school fees.
The unusual demonstrations were successful. All three teenagers were returned to their families after their cases came to the attention of the media and police were warned not to make more noise than necessary over petty crimes.
However, there are still about 6,000 children in Indonesian jails, only 600 of them in children’s facilities, the government says.
Children, like adults, are kept in police cells as they await trial.
After a rash of similar cases in 2009 — including the arrest of 10 shoeshine boys for playing a coin-toss game that police considered gambling — the national police force conceded it would seek alternative solutions.
“Obviously there has been no progress. Judges are also to blame, sending so many kids to jail. It’s only when there’s a protest that they side with the public and acquit the accused,” Pane said.
Despite a law that stipulates jailing should be “the last resort” for punishing a child, Indonesian courts convict and imprison 90 percent of the children they try, the UN Children’s Fund said.
The boy who stole the police officer’s sandals was reportedly physically abused by police and then locked up for almost three months on dubious evidence.
And a case in which two brothers in police custody were found dead with bruises covering their bodies has deepened public distrust of the law enforcement agencies.
For four years in a row Indonesians have named the police as the country’s most corrupt institution, according to Transparency International, which found 50 percent of all police interactions involved bribes.