Children jailed as adults' seek justice from Australia
September 10, 2018 4:11 pm
More than 120 Indonesians who say Australia wrongly jailed them as adults – when in fact they were children – have launched a bid for compensation.
The BBC’s Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke visited remote Rote Island to hear how they became caught up in human trafficking.
Siti Rudy’s eyes fill with tears when she recalls the long months in 2009 when, with no news, she assumed her son Abdul was dead.
“I cried and cried because as the youngest he was the one who looked after me,” she says, sitting on the cement floor of her home, a one-bedroom house in Oelaba village on Rote, the Indonesian island closest to Australia.
“After a long time he called me and told me he was in jail in Australia. That was a very hard thing to hear.”
Siti Rudy (right) thought she had lost her son, Abdul, at sea
Abdul says he unwittingly became, in the eyes of the Australian authorities, a people smuggler, carrying asylum seekers into Australian waters.
He says he was offered around $100 (£77), a significant amount of money in this area, to work on a boat transporting rice. He didn’t know or ask where it was going.
Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?
Australia intercepts any boats attempting to bring refugees or asylum seekers to its shores.
Under Australian policy at the time, any crew members of those boats found to be children should have been returned home – rather than face charges.
But Abdul was convicted as an adult and jailed for two-and-a-half years. His family and village officials say he was just 14 at the time.
Abdul says he was offered about $100 to work on a boat that left Indonesia
“I was scared I would be beaten up,” he says.
“I was so far from my family and held for a long time. That’s what was frightening but I got used to it after a while,” he says.
I have interviewed many men in Abdul’s position over the years – they all go very quiet when they talk about their time in jail. Lawyers say several children were physically and sexually abused, and still suffer psychological trauma.