For children in conflict with the law in Pakistan, torture, prolonged delays in the trial of their cases, and detention in overcrowded facilities without adequate educational or recreational opportunities remain the norm. Those who are convicted encounter harsh forms of justice including long prison terms, compulsory labor, and fines that serve as a barrier to their release. In neither case are the rights of the child or the interests of society served.
Many of the officials whom Human Rights Watch interviewed for this report were acutely aware both of the problems faced by children in the criminal justice system, as well as the remedial measures that are required. Recent developments, such as the designation of juvenile courts in Punjab and Sindh and the Punjab provincial government's stated intention to establish separate juvenile institutions, signal a renewed interest in improving the administration of juvenile justice. But the administrative enforcement of such plans has proved wanting in the past, and there are troubling indications that this remains the case.
The adoption of a federal juvenile justice law is a matter of urgent necessity. However any such law should be consistent with standards set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international instruments. The draft Child Offenders Act currently before the Senate falls appreciably short of those requirements and omits certain protections afforded children by the juvenile justice laws of Punjab and Sindh. The bill in its present form should therefore be withdrawn and redrafted in consultation with concerned local NGOs, taking into account the recent recommendations of the Pakistan Law Commission on juvenile justice reform, as well as the recommendations proposed at the beginning of this report.
In a few of the cases documented in this report, police and prison authorities faced administrative action or judicial proceedings for the torture, sexual abuse, or illegal detention of children in their custody. However, these measures were prompted either by the public disclosure of the abuses, or in one case, by a violent protest in a prison's juvenile ward. Far more often, such cases go unreported and unpunished. The absence of impartial grievance mechanisms and independent investigative bodies allows police and prison staff who torture and ill treat children to do so with impunity.
Institutional reform is critical. Independent complaints mechanisms should be established with the authority to initiate and conduct investigations of police abuses; such bodies should be organized at the district level, and be directly accessible to children and their families. Similar complaints mechanisms should be established for each detention facility. Police or prison officers found to havetortured or ill treated children in their custody should be subject to strict disciplinary action and, where warranted, criminal prosecution. The government should require and provide for the specialized training of all law enforcement officials and judicial authorities coming into contact with children. And existing institutions with responsibility for juveniles should receive additional resources and staffing, most urgently the provincial reclamation and probation departments.
By making arrangements for the temporary custody of detained children, designating specialized juvenile courts, and developing alternative dispositions to institutional confinement, the government can both minimize the prospect of custodial abuse of juveniles and also foster their rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities. Civil society can play a significant role in this process.