Justice for juveniles | Political Economy

Justice for juveniles

unish the crime and not the criminal. “How are we protecting our juveniles irrespective of the established laws?“ asked a mother I met at the F-8 court complex in Islamabad during work.

The question is whether or not the Juvenile Justice System Act, 2018, or any other law can pave the way to justice for non-adult transgressors. Section 3 of the Act provides that every juvenile victim of an offence shall have the right to legal assistance at the expense of the state.

But then there are mothers begging a senior advocate’s clerk to accept as first installment of his fee what her employed children have earned after weeks of hard work and starvation.

This widow says her two sons, between 14 and18 years of age, were tortured with knives and later thrown into jail after their opulent employer, a resident of Bharakahu, decided that they had shown him disrespect.

A bill passed on September 13, 2021, that became an Act in 2022 banned child labour in domestic work under any circumstances. The law is, however, applicable only in the federally administered territory. The provincial governments and legislatures have yet to follow suit.

Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, speaking at the closing session of a two-day conference on Resilient Pakistan held at the Supreme Court said, “The judiciary cannot make laws or policies but it can issue directions to enforce those if they are not implemented. As judges, we all support the enforcement of laws, but the way forward will always be to call the courts to come in aid in case the government is reluctant or doing nothing to execute the laws.”

Almost five years after the JJSA 2018 was passed, juvenile citizens continue to go through the regular criminal justice system. Little amelioration has been observed despite the fact that Pakistan was among the first 20 countries to ratify international treaties of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) including juvenile rights. Prolonged police custody, abusive trials and custodial deaths are some of the issues in our juvenile justice system. Fabricated charges to settle personal vendettas are another concern.

“But that’s how the law is. The law doesn’t protect every victim. The law only makes judgments based on evidence,” said Judge Sim Eun-seok.

A juvenile defendant is allowed in theory to join the court proceedings through an audio-visual link; the matter is to be decided in the child‘s best interest. It is appalling to note, however, that no date has been set for this provision to be put into practice. Also, there are no juvenile rehabilitation centres established exclusively for girls.

There is also a shortage of probation officers to assist the courts by reporting on the juveniles’ character, educational and social background. This is all the more important considering Pakistan has a predominantly young population.

About 20 percent of the juvenile delinquents awaiting trial are girls.

One wonders if Malala Fund, founded in 2013 to champion every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe and quality education, can help with establishment and maintenance of juvenile rehabilitation centres for girls.

Coordination among police, parents and relevant agencies is imperative. There is a need also for quality reformatories—institutions designed to provide structured and corrective treatment to non-adults.

If our juvenile courts can dispense prompt justice, that alone will have a direct beneficial impact on the children involved. Judges presiding over juvenile courts must realise that they are the last line of defence for the children brought before them and act accordingly.

The writer is an advocate of High Court. She can be reached at binashahid21@gmail.com


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