Pakistan People’s Party in its 2013 manifesto promised that when in power it would amend the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 to allow for the creation of children’s courts, and assess other means to strengthen the juvenile justice system.
The Juvenile Justice System does not fall in the civil or criminal justice apparatus; it is a distinct system that requires separate courts as is mentioned in the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 (JJSO). Offenders below the age of 18 are tried under the Juvenile Justice System. The central aim of the administration of juvenile justice provides rehabilitation of the youth rather than punishment.
The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, promulgated on July 1, 2000, prescribes setting up of juvenile courts and specialized procedures for arrests, investigation, bail and trial for the juvenile offenders.
In 2016, the Foundation for Research and Human Development (FRHD) and Sindh prison department carried out a situation study of juvenile offenders in Central Prison Karachi. The study sessions revealed that most of the young inmates were bright and wanted education, but the jail had no such facility to offer. Juvenile offenders usually came from poor and marginalized families, unable to pay surety on their behalf. During one interview session, 23 children admitted they could not hire a lawyer due to the paucity of funds.
Section 3 of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000, says that the state would provide legal practitioner to a child who is accused or is a victim of an offense. But the members of FRHD were told that the government had failed to provide funds to acquire a state-sponsored legal aid.
According to the research as many as 545 children were brought to Youthful Offenders Industrial School in 2016. Of these, 493 were first time offenders; 48 had faced conflict for a second time while four were incarcerated for the third time. A total of 186 children were facing trial. Under the JJSO 2000, Juvenile courts should decide a case within four months, but a typical case is taken forward to more than two years.
Police behaviour with youth offenders has been a matter of concern for the activists. The report revealed that majority of the police officer had no knowledge of JJSO 2000, Sindh Children Act 1955, or any other law regarding children. In most cases the very law enforcers were oblivious to the law requiring the immediate notification of the probation officer upon the arrest of a child.
Section 4 (1) of JJSO binds the federal and provincial governments to set-up juvenile courts in each district. However, no such court has been established anywhere in the country. The governments have asked sessions and additional judges or family courts to try juvenile offenders.
Currently, juvenile offenders are even tried in anti-terrorism courts and under Protection of Pakistan Act a child who is accused of a crime can be held in preventive detention. Preventive detention is a measure where an accused is detained for a period of time before proceedings commences, considering the accused as a threat to the proceedings or the community. This practice criticised for robbing the accused of their fundamental human rights.
On May 30, 2012, Ministry of Interior issued a notification that read: “The Federal Government is pleased to designate the existing anti-terrorist courts established under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to exercise the power of Juvenile Justice Court in the area of their respective Jurisdiction.” However child rights experts have viewed this with dismay saying that the absence of juvenile courts and judges decelerate the judicial process for juveniles.
In Sindh prisons, the government has established separate barracks for young offenders, which is usually near the adult prisoners. In all, there are five detention centres in Sindh for holding Juvenile offenders these include the remand Homes in Karachi along with Youthful Offender Industrial Schools in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, and Larkana. According to a report by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child the detention centres in Sindh are in deplorable condition.
After the 18th Amendment, law and order is provincial subject, therefore to track the PPP promise about the juvenile courts Truth Tracker found it pertinent to know what the PPP government in Sindh has done in this regard. Sharmila Farooqi, Member of Sindh Assembly and a leading figure of PPP, was contacted to get PPP’s view. Sharmila agreed that the Sindh government had been unable to do much for the juveniles. She admitted that the remand homes were in deplorable condition and that there were only two probation officers in Karachi. She was painfully acknowledged that children in jails were not given proper education or vocational training, preparing them for a crime-free life as they returned to normalcy.
Talking about the mechanism needed to set up juvenile courts she said that the government had to work with the Chief Justice Sindh High Court to develop a separate system within the existing judicial infrastructure to handle the juvenile offenders. For this, she recommended that the District Judge in every district could be designated to hear juvenile cases. Farooqi further added that since setting up separate courts require budgetary allocations called Money Bill, which usually require years to develop, therefore, she suggested, in the meantime, the government could work on jail reforms, designate separate judges and providing vocational and academic activities to children in prison. “Presently we only have a few barracks in the Karachi Central Prison for the children, which is not enough. In Hyderabad and Sukkur children offenders are kept with adult criminals,” said Farooqi.
She further added that the Home, Prison and the Legal departments have to work together to address this important issue.
When Truth Tracker spoke to Inspector General Prison Sindh, Nusrat Mangan he painted an entirely different picture. He agreed that the Sindh government had not established special courts for the juvenile offenders. However, Mangan said there were separate jails for them. About the general well being of the children in prison, he said: “We give proper education and vocational training to these kids in jails.” When asked about the absence of legal aids to the children Mangan stated that places where the government could not provide legal aid, the gap is filled by NGOs.
Nusrat Sehar Abbasi, a member of Sindh Assembly from Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) said that the Sindh government had been swift in making laws but passive in getting them implemented. About the condition of jails in Sindh she termed them as deplorable. “Sindh lacks good governance,” said Abbassi. “The government might have changed the Chief Minister, but it has not affected the mind-set which is the same as it was at the time of the former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah’s time,” Abbassi lamented. When asked if her party had taken up the issue of juvenile justice in the Sindh Assembly she told Truth Tracker that the Sindh government had made assembly’s proceedings complicated making it difficult to get an issue tabled either through an adjournment motion or call attention order. “Issues given for call attention are balloted and later run through a process of scrutiny and criticism, because of which many issues either get delayed or are not allowed discussion when the time is ripe for them,” said Abbassi.
Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed told Truth Tracker that juvenile courts were necessary and should be made without delay. He further added that unfortunately dispensing justice was not the priority of the government. “Visit any court in Pakistan, and you find it in shambles. Judges and lawyers hardly have enough offices even record rooms are not available,” said Ahmed. He doubted if the government would ever get serious in allocating funds to build juvenile courts.
Shaukat Hayat, an eminent lawyer from Sindh High Court, informed Truth Tracker that session judges have been hearing cases of the juveniles. Adding further, Hayat stated that no special court was made for the children. He continued, saying that the police and society have subjected the juvenile offenders to all sorts of abuses and mistreatment.
The PPP government has been unable to establish separate Juvenile Courts and strengthen the juvenile justice system, such as by providing vocational and academic training to the children or making jail reforms for them, therefore the promises stands broken.