Children's Rights

Easy Targets: Violence Against Children Worldwide

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Torture During Police Interrogation

In Pakistan in May 1998, a thirteen-year-old boy, Ghulam Jilani, died just hours after being arrested and taken to a police station in Mansehra.  Though officially reported as a suicide, an account provided to Human Rights Watch by another boy who was arrested with Jilani indicated that he died after severe and prolonged torture. The autopsy report stated that Jilani had died of head injuries; the other boy had also been physically abused while in custody, and sustained contusions on his arm and leg. [2]

In many countries, children are detained by police without sufficient cause, for too long, without notification to their parents or guardians, or simply as a mechanism of intimidation.  Such detention is often accompanied by brutal interrogations and torture.  Illegal conduct by police is rarely prosecuted, even when children die in custody. This impunity contributes to conditions for further police abuse of children.  Additional factors contributing to such practices include police prejudices (for instance against street children, Roma, or members of other minorities), poorly paid and trained police forces, and a culture of violence within police departments that fosters abusive behavior.

Pakistani police frequently torture children in police custody in order to extract confessions or obtain information. Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 1998 experienced abuse ranging from slaps in the face following arrest to sustained torture over the course of several days, including being hung upside-down, beaten, whipped with rubber belts or leather slippers, or deprived of sleep. A fifteen-year-old boy told us he was held at a police station and whipped with a rubber strap for fifteen days. A seventeen-year-old was beaten for four days until he was unable to walk. A sixteen-year-old reported that he was held at a police station for five or six days where “they used to tie me with a rope, and turn me upside down, with my head facing the ground.”[3]

A medical team interviewed 200 Pakistani children in Karachi’s Youthful Offenders Industrial School in 1997 and found that while in policy custody, nearly 60 percent of children had been subjected to forms of torture including severe beatings, electric shocks, hanging, cheera (stretching apart of the victim’s legs, sometimes in combination with kicks to the genitalia), cuts, and burns.[4]

Street children in Kenya also reported abuse during interrogations.  Fifteen-year-old John B. described his experience in a roundup: “Two police men in uniforms questioned me.  They asked me questions, like where I was from, where my parents were.  Every time I didn’t answer a question, they whipped me on my back with a cable brake from a motorcycle.”[5]  Seventeen-year-old Minga S. described his detention in a station in Nairobi: “I stayed in the cell for three days.  The first day, I was hit on the head with a piston and kicked and punched.  Whichever policeman would come into the cell and do the head count would hit me.”[6]

In Jamaica, a sixteen-year-old boy accused of stealing money was brought to a police station, where he was beaten with an electrical cord, both in his cell and in the guard room. According to the boy, the police beat him in order to get him to confess to stealing the money.[7]

During a 1996 Human Rights Watch investigation in Bulgaria, children reported severe police brutality both at the time of arrest and particularly during interrogation sessions at police stations.  Children reported being beaten by police with electric shock batons, clubs, chains, rubber hosing, boxing gloves, and a metal rod with a ball at the end of it (known as a beech).  One boy was stripped of his clothing, doused with water, and beaten on the soles of his feet with an electric shock baton.[8]

An eleven-year-old boy told us:

This past spring, the police handcuffed me and took me to the station. They thought I stole something but I didn’t. They put me in a cell with bars. They kept me there for six days. I was handcuffed the whole time . . . There were always two policemen on duty and they beat me all the time. Sometimes they used their truncheons. They hit me all over, in my ribs, on my head, while they questioned me and asked me why I stole. I told them that I was only begging for food, that I didn’t steal anything.[9]

In Russia, a two-year investigation from 1997 to 1999 found that police violence against children appeared to be widespread, in particular against boys accused of having committed small-scale theft or other petty crimes.[10] According to the Moscow-based Committee for Civil Rights, the frequency of police violence against children increased significantly between 1994 and 1998. The group estimated that about one-third of all children facing criminal proceedings are subjected to violence during the detention and investigation process, and that every fourth child has been subjected to police violence on the street, unrelated to the criminal investigation process, before the age of fifteen.[11]

Fifteen-year-old Oleg F. was taken from his school by police officers to a police station, where he was accused of stealing a jacket from another schoolboy. When he refused to confess, police tortured him. According to his account, police first beat him, kicked him, and dragged him around on the floor. Then they handcuffed him, tied him to a chair, and put a gas mask over his head. They cut the oxygen supply several times for about a minute. Oleg F. said he twice almost lost consciousness.[12]

In India, the case of Anand K., a thirteen-year-old ragpicker, was typical.  Anand K. was asked by the police to come to the station to pick up some garbage.  He told Human Rights Watch:

When we were inside the station, the police started to beat me with their lathis and fists, calling me a thief and asking me to tell them where some stolen articles were.  I said I had no idea what they were talking about.  The beating continued for some twenty or thirty minutes. ...  At around 4:00 p.m., the police let me go, one of the constables having first grabbed me by the shirt, slapped me, and told me to get out.  No charges were filed, and no case was registered.  It was the second time I’ve been detained without justification or explanation by the police.[13]

The Indian police regularly torture children to obtain evidence and confessions.  One boy, Shantanu G., was accused of committing a robbery at a wedding.  He was arrested eight days later and taken to the station.  There, his hands were beaten with a baton for an hour until the complainant came and identified Shantanu G. as the robber.  Once identified, Shantanu G. was taken back to the enquiry room, hung from the ceiling, and beaten for about forty-five minutes with police batons on the shoulders, back, and thighs.  Following this, he was forced to lie on a block of ice while his legs were held in place by police.  The police hit him whenever he tried to move.  Then he was taken outside and made to lie in the sun for two hours while police asked him where the stolen property was kept.  Two days later, Shantanu G’s. parents were brought in and threatened with beating if he did not confess.  He confessed, the property was recovered, and his parents were released.  He was held for another ten days, and was tortured so badly that two officers had to hold him up in court when he appeared.  He was sent to an adult prison, and then to an observation home when the prison inspector-general discovered his age.  Immediately after his release, Shantanu G. spent twenty days in the hospital as a result of the torture he received in police custody and in the observation home.[14]

[2] Human Rights Watch, Prison Bound: The Denial of Juvenile Justice in Pakistan (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p 26.

[4] Ibid., p.24.

[5] Human Rights Watch, Juvenile Injustice: Police Abuse and Detention of Street Children in Kenya (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1997), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 41.

[7] Human Rights Watch, Nobody’s Children: Jamaican Children in Police Detention and Government Institutions (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 60.

[8] Human Rights Watch, Children of Bulgaria: Police Violence and Arbitrary Confinement (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996), p. 4.

[9] Ibid., pp. 27-28.

[10] Human Rights Watch, Confessions at Any Cost: Police Torture in Russia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999).

[11] Ibid, p. 78.

[12] Ibid, p. 79.

[13] Human Rights Watch, Police Abuse and Killings of Street Children in India (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996), p. 17.

[14] Ibid., p. 35-36.

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