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Indonesia: Death of Child Brings Calls for Reform of Child Protection, Adoption Legislation

(June 18, 2015) An infamous case of violence against a child has led to calls for reform in child protection and adoption legislation in Indonesia. On June 10, 2015, the body of an eight-year old girl was found in Bali; she had been buried in the backyard of her adoptive mother’s house. (Unlawful Child Adoption Could Lead to Abuse: KPAI, JAKARTA POST (June 15, 2015).) The girl, Angeline (sometimes spelled Engeline), whose body was discovered about a month after she disappeared, has become a national story. (Children Share Sadness, Sympathy over Engeline’s Case, JAKARTA POST (June 15, 2015).)

Angeline’s adoptive mother, Margaret Christine Megawe, was arrested on June 14, 2015, on suspicion of child neglect. In addition, a household helper confessed to having killed the girl after sexually assaulting her twice. Speculation on the motive for the homicide includes either to cover up the assaults or perhaps because the adoptive mother promised him a large payment. Angeline reportedly inherited money on the death of her adoptive father. (Id.; Kennial Caroline Laia & Erwida Maulia, Angeline’s Murder Spurs Calls for Review of Child Protection Laws, JAKARTA GLOBE (June 14, 2015); Bali Police Arrest Murdered Girl’s Foster Mother for Neglect, JAKARTA GLOBE (June 14, 2015).)

Reform Proposals

As a result of the concerns raised by the case, Arist Merdeka Sirait, Chairman of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, has advocated stronger punishments for those who commit sexual offenses against children. He stated, “[t]here must be a longer prison sentence. The law must be revised to regulate a minimum 20 years imprisonment and a maximum life sentence.” He added that “a future revision [of the law] must include chemical castration to create more deterrent effects. This is how we provide justice for victims.” (Laia & Maulia, supra.) The current punishment for sexual crimes against a child, under various provisions of the Penal Code, varies from three to 15 years of imprisonment. (Id.; Decree-Law No. 19/2009: Approves the Penal Code [text of Code attached as Annex] (Mar. 18, 2009), U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime website.)

The adoption reform proposal has the support of Fahri Hamzah, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who said that revision of laws on the protection of children should include making sure foster parents follow established procedures before adoptions are finalized. Officials have noted that adoption procedures were not followed when Angeline’s parents took her in as an infant. (Laia & Maulia, supra.) A 2007 government regulation covers how adoptions should be done. (Peraturan Pemerintah Republik Indonesia Nomor 54 Tahun 2007 Tentang Pelaksanaan Pengangkatan Anak [Indonesian Government Regulation No. 54, of 2007, on Implementing Child Adoption], Financial Oversight and Development Body website [government website].)

Hidayat Nur Wahid, a member of the House of Representatives Commission VIII, the committee that covers children’s welfare, among other issues, noted that the Commission is preparing a revision of the child protection law. (Laia & Maulia, supra; Republic of Indonesia Law No. 23 of 2002 on Child Protection (Oct. 22, 2002), International Resource Center website.)