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14 Year Old Boy in Custody, Bali - Where's the Compassion?

By Yvette Vignando - 10th October 2011

As our family drove back from a country holiday on the weekend, we heard news on the radio that a 14 year old boy from NSW had been arrested in Bali for allegedly being in possession of a small quantity of marijuana. Our boys are aged 16, 13 and 9, so it was easy for me to make a quick mental leap to the minds of this young man’s parents. I thought about what I should say to our kids about it and frankly I wasn’t sure. The first thing that sprang to mind was how awful this would be for the boy’s parents and how scary it would be for him. With a nearly 14 year old boy in our house, I have a visceral sense of the level of maturity (or immaturity) of a boy of that age. This young man must be terrified at the moment.

So that’s the first thing I said in the car “Imagine how awful and frightening it must be for those parents and that kid.” And I couldn’t help also saying my other honest thought “That boy has done something really stupid, not only by using a drug but also to be doing that in a country with such strict and well publicised laws about drug use and trafficking.”  If the allegations of marijuana possession are true (and we must assume innocence until proven otherwise),  then that young man has, in my opinion, made a very stupid mistake with potentially very serious consequences.

But he’s a 14 year old boy. And 14 year old boys make mistakes. Lots of them. As parents, we hope that the mistakes won’t be too many or too serious but sometimes they are. I used to prosecute crime for the NSW state DPP so I have seen and heard of many young men and women making the same mistake here in Australia – either for the first time or over and over again. And in most cases, possession of a small amount of marijuana will lead to a penalty, but not gaol, and very rarely would they be refused bail. But of course, the laws in Bali are different.

I just hope our kids won’t make the mistake of using drugs, not ever, but of course I can’t be sure they won’t, no matter how much drug education, communication, loving and caring we give them, the fact is that young people do make mistakes, and sometimes they get caught.

But there was some commentary I saw online today that made me uncomfortable and angry: people criticising Prime Minister Julia Gillard for calling the boy to give him reassurance that the Australian government is seeking to help him and his family, and a comment reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, by Greg Barns, a representative of the Australian Lawyers Alliance: ''How can we be critical of Indonesia's detention of a 14-year-old Australian boy when we have Indonesian children of the same age locked away in detention centres, without charge for a year or more here?''

I am totally against the detention of asylum seeker children here in Australia. But I think all children are entitled to compassion and understanding, and help. I oppose Prime Minister Gillard’s policies on the detention of children asylum seekers in Australia (see where I have written about this here and here and here) but I fully support our Prime Minister being compassionate towards a 14 year old child in custody in Bali.  I put myself in the position of this child’s parents and this child and think about the mistake that he may have made, and I feel compassionate – let’s not make a 14 year old boy a pawn in a game of political commentary about Gillard’s other policies, or about the level of Rudd’s involvement to help this boy, and let’s not make assumptions about this boy and his family. Let's assume that both Gillard and Rudd are acting compassionately.

I want to call in the Compassion Police and get them to metaphorically fine all those people who have hardened their hearts – I wonder how they would feel if it was their child, their nephew, their grandson, or their friend's child?

 

UPDATE 24 October 2011

Today it is reported that this boy's case (he is apparently in Year 9 ) could be handed over to a prosecutor for trial in Bali in a few days time, and that the case could possibly go to trial as early as next week. He is being held in an immigration detention center reports News.com.au - he must be terrified. I hope for his parents' sake and his, for a quick outcome and plenty of compassion. We don't know the full story but we do know he is 14, and so has a lot of maturing to do. My thoughts are with his family.

image freedigitalphotos.net

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