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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (August 31, 2002 – Radio New Zealand international)---Tonga’s prison department is being "uncivilized" in sentencing teenage lawbreakers to uninhabited ‘Ata Island, said parliamentarian ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

He was reacting to a Matangi Tonga magazine report that up to 50 youths between the ages of 14 and 16 are being kept on the island, about an hour’s boat ride from the capital, Nuku‘alofa.

The teenagers are unsupervised and allowed to go home only once a month, to visit family and go to church.

Pohiva said taking children to ‘Ata island will not help rehabilitate them, adding that the government should make it a priority to provide prison facilities for children on Tongatapu, the main island.

"I don't think it is appropriate. It is uncivilized to isolate young people," he said.

"We must give them a chance to improve their attitudes and behavior but we can only do that when they are in a place where there are people to look after them."

Pohiva said not many people know about the ‘Ata Island scheme but he says he is planning to publicize it.

For additional reports from Radio New Zealand International, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio New Zealand International.

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