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KARACHI: A majority of young inmates languishing in the Central Prison Karachi (CPK) juvenile offenders ward on Friday expressed their desire to be educated in confines of the jail so they spend their time purposefully in learning that could help them get better place in society in future.

The children said they might not have chosen the path of crime in their life, if they had been imparted better education. Prison authorities admitted that many such children were talented to become good citizens, if they were given another chance of a free life.

It was learnt through a series of sessions with juvenile offenders conducted by the Foundation for Research and Human Development (FRHD) in collaboration with the Sindh prisons department from November 14 to 18, 2016 with the support of Terre Des Home.

The final session was conducted by Maira Mustafa, a PhD research scholar from the University of Karachi. Superintendent of the Industrial Home for the Youthful Offenders of the CPK Aurangzeb Kango, deputy superintendent Ashfaq Kalwar and FRHD head Nazra Jahan spoke to children.

The organisers said their effort aimed at reforming and trying to make such children useful citizens under the child protection response campaign’s theme “Children on move”.

They said almost all the child inmates in the jail were uneducated and did not even know how to write their own name.

“There is no education being provided to the children inside the prison. Many of these children are brilliant and they want to be good citizens and are begging for one more chance [in their life].”

Officials and organisers said most juvenile inmates belonged to marginalised and poverty-stricken families thus unable to pay their surety amounts. During a session, 23 children said, “We cannot hire a lawyer”.

Superintendent Aurangzeb appreciated the efforts for conducting interactive sessions and said it was need of the hour to reunify and re-socialise those children. He said such interactive and counselling sessions should be held twice a week to bring change to children’s behaviour and boost their personal development.

“As those children related to the families from poor strata of society, single parent, or broken families or orphans, the agents of socialisation for them are absent due to lack of parental attention.”

Prison officials said socioeconomic issues were also major hurdles in the formation of behaviours in their personality development. Mr Aurangzeb called for the government to appoint trained therapists to conduct psychotherapy sessions of young inmates to diagnose and treat their mental and emotional problems.

Many children reported that they were harshly abused and brutally treated by police, who implicated them for crime which they had not committed. They reported that they did not have sufficient money to appoint lawyers to fight for their cases in court.

Section 3 of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000, grants every child, who is accused or is a victim of an offence, the right to legal assistance and it obligates the state to appoint legal practitioners for such children at state’s expense. But, the session was informed, the government had failed to allocate funds in the accounts of the state-sponsored legal aid to get it implemented.

The Youthful Offenders Industrial School (YOIS) is engaged in interactive sessions for exploring the young inmates’ potentials for success in future.

Officials informed the session that as many as 545 children were brought at the YOIS since January this year. Some 493 of them were the first time offenders; 48 others came into conflict with the law second time; while four of them incarcerated for third time.

The organisers said some 186 juvenile prisoners were facing trials. The juvenile courts should decide such cases within four months under Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000 but they had to suffer for more than two years, the session was informed.

In its findings, the organisers said vast majority of police officials had no knowledge of JJSO-2000, Sindh Children Act 1955 or any other law related to children’s rights. Similarly, the law stating that the probation officer had to be informed immediately after the arrest of any child was not in their [police officials] knowledge.

During the interactive session, 14 children were found to be not from Karachi. They were migrants who came to Karachi for economic reasons. “They are the children on move, who have desired to be schooled. They requested for provision of books for education,” said Ms Jahan.

November is considered the month of child fraternity and the United Nations General Assembly adopted the convention on the Rights of the Child on Nov 20 in 1989.

This day marks Universal Children’s Day, which is dedicated to promote well-being and human rights of world children, especially those suffering from the impact of discrimination, exploitation, poverty and armed conflict.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2016