Open your eyes and cast a keen look around, unsurprisingly, you will notice degeneration. It seems purity has taken a one-way flight to an unknown place and replaced by a decay that has made a permanent place in every inch of our living space.
Any part of the state machinery that we lay our eyes on appears to be in its worst of shapes, vociferously crying for a thorough overhaul. The situation is no different for the judicial system in general and the mechanism in place for juvenile justice in particular.
In spite of the fact that the issue of juvenile offenders is alarmingly distressing, it seems to have fallen short of gaining due attention of today’s ‘dynamic’ media or the society at large.
According to Zaheer Babar, a legal advisor and philanthropist, who is also heading SHED (Society for Health & Education Development), when a minor commits a crime in any part of Pakistan, regardless of what tender age-bracket he belongs to, it inevitably exposes him to the nastiest of social evils.
In the absence of an effective mechanism of rehabilitation and justice system in the country, the juvenile offender gets trapped in an irreversible cycle of degeneration. He/she not only gets deprived of his/her fundamental right to grow up and fit in as a normal member of the society but ends up in an ultimate darkness, turning into a threat and a menace for others in later years.
Currently there is no prescribed mechanism to handle children in conflict with law at a Police Station. Data of such children is not available separately within police and there is no system to maintain records and information of juvenile offenders to be used for its timely use.
Police officers who deal with juveniles are not specially instructed and trained. It is usually reported in print media about abuse of child at police station during the course of investigation.
There are delays in trials of children in conflict with law and they are brought in the same police stations where adults are detained and interrogated. This practice puts these children at a risk of sexual abuse and violence, which is reflected in the growing number of such cases, most of which are hushed up for obvious reasons.
In the above backdrop, Zaheer Babar underscores the need for establishment of separate courts for juveniles so that the relevant cases could be disposed of in timely and efficient manner.
Encouragingly, with an aim to improve the plight of such children, three Child Protection Centers have been set up under the auspices of SHED in Karachi and Hyderabad. The aim of these centers is to provide child friendly place of investigation; maintenance of juvenile record; offender-victim mediation and rehabilitation of children in conflict with law including juvenile offenders, victims, survival of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
Sindh Police has issued a notification for referral of FIRs involving children lodged in Karachi’s East, West, Malir and Central districts to Child Protection Centers where specially trained officers handle the investigation of the juvenile cases.
These, certainly, are heartening steps towards the right direction but the issue at hand is too severe and huge, warranting sustained attention and collective measures on a much larger scale for it to be addressed effectively across the country.
Today’s children represent the future of our country and it is the responsibility of Pakistan’s civil society, philanthropists, welfare organizations as well as media and, last but not the least, the government, to join hands towards launching a collective effort to save our vulnerable youth.