Juvenile justice law in focus after boy’s death in custody

Published March 22, 2021
The custodial death of a teenage boy inside a police lock-up in Peshawar on March 14 has triggered a public outcry. — Reuters/File
The custodial death of a teenage boy inside a police lock-up in Peshawar on March 14 has triggered a public outcry. — Reuters/File

The custodial death of a teenage boy inside a police lock-up in Peshawar on March 14 has triggered a public outcry with growing demands for implementation of the juvenile justice law in the country.

The boy has allegedly committed suicide inside the lock-up of West Cantt Police Station.

After public reaction especially on social media, the city police chief suspended the staffers of the said police station whereas the SHO Dost Mohammad and a moharrar Ismail were arrested on a complaint filed by father of the deceased boy.

The complainant claimed that he had received a phone call from the police station telling him that his son had been arrested as he was not having registration documents of his motorcycle and he should visit the station and bring the said documents.

He claimed that when he reached the police station he was kept waiting for three hours and finally informed that his son had committed suicide. He alleged that his son was tortured to death. The CCTV footage, purportedly of the occurrence, has also gone viral showing a person committing suicide by hanging himself near the entrance of the lock-up.

According to a police report, the student was overpowered by traders and bazaar guards after he had pointed his pistol at a shopkeeper during a brawl. It is claimed that he was booked under section 15 of the Arms Act and detained in the lock-up.

This unfortunate incident has brought to fore the Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Act, 2018, with experts pointing out the violations committed by police officials in the instant case. Questions have been raised as to why the deceased, who was a juvenile, was kept in the lock-up contrary to the provisions of JJSA providing that he should have been kept in an observation home.

So far, no observation home has been set up anywhere in the province where a juvenile in conflict with law could be kept. The present case clearly proved that not only the police, but other stakeholders specially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had also not fulfilled its responsibility towards implementation of the present law as well as the relevant previous law on the subject.

The Juvenile Justice System Act (JJSA), 2018, had replaced the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000, which was promulgated during the military government of retired General Pervez Musharraf.

Several changes were made in the present law compared to the previous one specially the process of diversion, setting up of juvenile rehabilitation centres, observation homes and juvenile justice committees.

The 2000 ordinance clearly provided that soon after arrest of a child for commission of an offence, the officer in-charge of a police station should forthwith inform his or her guardian of such arrest and inform him about the time, date and name of the juvenile court before which the child shall be produced.

Moreover, it was also mandatory that the officer in-charge shall inform the concerned probation officer to enable him to obtain such information about the child and other material circumstances which may be of assistance to the juvenile court for making inquiry.

However, the said provisions of the previous law were not implemented in the country specially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The said provisions about informing the guardian and the probation officer about arrest of a juvenile have been retained in the present JJSA.

While the previous law included provision related to “borstal institution”, the present law has included provisions related to setting up of observation home and juvenile rehabilitation centre.

Interestingly, neither the provision related to borstal institution nor that of observation home and rehabilitation centre provided in the present law have been implemented.

Section 5 of the Act provides that an arrested juvenile shall be kept in an observation home and the officer-in-charge of the police station shall, as soon as possible, inform guardian of the juvenile and concerned probation officer.

The law defines an observation home as “a place where a juvenile is kept temporarily after being apprehended by police as well as after obtaining remand from Juvenile Court or otherwise for conducting inquiry or investigation for the purpose of this Act.”

Similarly, the juvenile rehabilitation centre means “a place where a juvenile may be kept and given education, vocational or technical training for his mental, moral and psychological development and includes certified institutions, juvenile training institutions, borstal institutions, vocational centres, Darul Amaan and women crises centres established by the government or by voluntary organisation certified by the government.”

In India, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, was enacted in Dec 2015 and through it the relevant law of 2000 was replaced.

An important provision in the Indian previous and present law relates to setting up of Special Juvenile Police Unit, which means a unit of the police force of a district or city or, as the case may be, any other police unit like railway police, dealing with children and designated as such for handling children.

The law provides that in every police station, at least one officer, not below the rank of assistant sub-inspector, with aptitude, appropriate training and orientation may be designated as the child welfare police officer to exclusively deal with children either as victims or perpetrators, in co-ordination with the police, voluntary and non-governmental organisations.

Moreover, the Indian National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the state-level commissions have been empowered to monitor implementation of the provisions of this Act.

Experts on the subject believe that without wasting time the institutions mentioned in the JJSA such as observation homes, juvenile rehabilitation centres, juvenile justice committees, etc should be set up and made operational at the earliest.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2021

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