ISLAMABAD: After four years of the passing of the Juvenile Justice Act 2018, the Ministry of Law and Justice recently notified the first ever Islamabad Juvenile Justice Committees under Section 10 of Juvenile Justice System Act 2018.

The Juvenile Justice Committee (JJC) is the key pin in the transformation of Pakistan’s juvenile justice system and a consequence of the personal interest taken by Chief Justice, Islamabad High Court Athar Minallah into the conditions of prisoners, particularly juvenile inmates at Adiala jail.

According to a statement of National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), following a report by NCHR on the allegations of torture and the incarceration of juvenile prisoners at Adiala prison, CJ ordered immediate implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act 2018 and the setup of Juvenile Justice Committees that play a strategic role in administering ‘Diversion’, an alternate intervention that redirect juvenile delinquents away from confinement in prison while still holding them accountable for their actions.

The justice committee constituted for each Sessions Division of Islamabad East and West comprising four members each; a Judicial magistrate with powers prescribed under section 30 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, an advocate of the Supreme Court, district Prosecutor and a probation officer.

The JJSA 2018, which is in harmony with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and both the Mandela and Beijing Rules, is an important legislation which centers around ‘best interest of the child’ and introduces, for the first time in Pakistan, a new concept of juvenile rehabilitation.

Diversion allows for the rehabilitation and reintegration of juvenile offenders into society without exposing them to the further criminal elements within a prison system.

On the directions of Justice Mohsin Kayani, NCHR, with the help of civil society, will help train Committee officials and develop guidelines for the process of diversion in the country.

Sec 9 (4) of the JJSA act, authorizes the Justice Committees to dispose cases, with consent of the person against whom the offence was committed, by resorting to different modes of diversion including, restitution of movable property; reparation of the damage caused; written or oral apology; participation in community service and placement in Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre.

Unfortunately, despite lapse of four years, Rehabilitation Centers have also not yet been set up in Islamabad. Chief Commissioner, however, during the visit at Adiala Jail, assured that the government will notify a building as a Rehabilitation Center before the end of the month.

The set up of Rehabilitation Centers and the operationalization of the concept of diversion will bring much needed relief to the 2000+ juvenile offenders incarcerated in the various jails throughout Pakistan. Most of whom don’t have any legal representation.

During the course of its investigation, NCHR team observed that, despite Sec 3 of JJSA 2018, which mandates that every juvenile shall have the right to legal assistance by the state (within 25 hours of being taken into custody), no such support had been given to the children at Adiala. It was this huge gap in provision of legal aid that led to NCHR to represent and conclude the trial of 62 young offenders in a marathon four days.

On directives of the Chief Justice, the processes of criminal justice gained momentum. Police and jail administration, particularly SP investigation Farhat Kazmi, SSP Rizwan Gondal and the two juvenile magistrates Rana Mujahid and Nasarminallah Baloch were able to successfully conclude a record breaking number of 62 cases in four days.

The process was spearheaded in NCHR legal Team Advocate Haseeb Sultan and MrWaqar Ahmad who made countless visits to the jail, worked to find witnesses and contact guardians for the release of the young offenders.

“This record achievement, never before seen in Pakistan, is a result of the coordinated and dedicated efforts of the entire justice machinery and is an example of how things can work when all stakeholders are in synergy” says Chairperson NCHR, Rabiya Javeri Agha.

There is still much more to be done to operationalize the JJSA 2018 and to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system- speedy trial of juvenile offenders, e- courts, the constitution of an independent and robust oversight mechanism under NCHR and most importantly the setup of Human Rights Courts under Section 21 of the NCHR Act 2018 will go a long way in improving the judicial and human rights ecosystem system in the country.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2022

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