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JUVENILES WITHOUT JAILS

  • Zubair Qureshi
  • Mar, 2019
  • 984
  • Pakistan’s juvenile justice

WITH FEWER JAILS AROUND, MOST OF OUR YOUNG ARE KEPT IN JAILS MEANT FOR ADULTS, LEAVING THEM AT THE MERCY OF RUTHLESS DISCIPLINARY MEASURES AND WITHOUT EDUCATIONAL AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING

Aleading human rights activist has urged the new government to take steps to ensure a juvenile justice system is in place and working effectively.

The Juvenile Justice System Act was formally enacted in May 2018 with the signature of the president.

The new law has been hailed as different and far better than the previous 2000 Act, with experts saying it met the international criteria set by the United Nations Convention on Rights of Children.

However, a Franco-Pakistani campaigner for women and children’s rights activist, Valerie Khan, says the mere passage of the law doesn’t guarantee children’s protection against abusers nor does it prevent their trial in the same criminal courts that are meant for grown up criminals.

Welcoming the passage of the act, Ms. Khan, who is also chairperson of Acid Rights Victims, says the government in consultation with the stakeholders needs to take three steps urgently: develop model juvenile courts; identify challenges and involve the community.

Ms. Khan has been living and working in Islamabad for 22 years. Her work mainly focuses on rights and rehabilitation of socially, physically and criminally abused women and children.

Dismissing the impression that Pakistan is not a safe country for children, she says child abuse existed everywhere in the world, and what is the key is the knowhow to tackle it.

‘The worst form of this abuse is, however, sexual and the threat mostly comes from family relatives, house workers and community living nearby,’ she says.

Pakistan is the first Muslim country and fifth in the world to have ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Children. Yet, the figures related to the cases of child sexual abuse are quite disturbing, she says.

In 2017 alone, a report estimated that up to 2,077 girls and up to 1,368 boys in the age bracket 9-11 were subjected to sexual abuse.

Ms. Khan says, after rape and murder of Zainab Ansari last January there was behavioural change and more public awareness and the general feeling was that such cases should be highlighted.

However, handling such cases is extremely sensitive business and there should be a procedure to prevent the media from exposing the identities of the victim and victim’s family so that their security is not compromised.

All over the world, the activist says, there is a certain way to report such gender sensitive issues, and after the juvenile justice act her team’s focus would be to get some law passed or framework implemented with regard to secrecy and security of the victims and their families.

Unfortunately, she says, Pakistan’s laws dealing with such cases are not aligned with the internationally accepted framework of laws.

Ms. Khan has been closely following the 10-year-old Tayyaba torture case, involving a child maid subjected to torture by a serving judge’s wife in Islamabad.

Seeing the bruised Tayyaba standing in front of a magistrate didn’t go well with her. She terms it a horrifying experience as a little girl has to face the same procedure that an adult accused or victim has to undergo. Although the judge meant well and police were kind, the courtroom atmosphere was not child-friendly, she says, adding, ‘It further emphasises the need of juvenile courts in Pakistan, and the sooner, the better.’

Former president Mamnoon Hussain in May 2018 ratified Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Act.

High Court Advocate Wajahat Ali Malek says the law classifies criminal offences by juveniles into three different categories:

minor: that means an offence for which maximum punishment under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 is imprisonment for up to three years with or without fine. A juvenile is entitled to bail in minor offences, with or without surety bonds by juvenile court

major: this means an offence for which punishment under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 is imprisonment of more than three years and up to seven years with or without fine. Bail will also be granted in major offences with or without surety bonds by juvenile court

heinous: it means an offence which is serious, brutal, or shocking to public morality and which is punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 with death or imprisonment for life or imprisonment for more than seven years with or without fine

The new government draws a huge chunk of its support from the country’s youth, a relationship the party capitalised on throughout its election camp...

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