KARACHI: The Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has sought a mechanism to provide free legal assistance to 385 juvenile offenders, who are being kept in three youthful offenders’ industrial schools and correction facilities across the province.

The statistics, collected by the office of the inspector general (IG) of prisons and corrections service, Sindh, in July, said 168 juvenile offenders were 17 year old, 106 16 years old, 100 18 years old, eight 15 years old, two 14 years old and one offender was 13 years old.

The youthful offenders industrial school and correction facility at Karachi has the highest number of minors as it houses 338 inmates facing trial in different cases followed by the Hyderabad detention facility for underage with 35 and the one in Sukkur with 12 minors.

The SHRC has asked the Sindh High Court to devise a mechanism offering free legal aid to these children as mandated under several provisions of the Constitution and relevant law.

Initially, a separate legislation for child offenders, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), was promulgated in 2000 about a decade after the UN Convention on the Rights of Child signing in 1990 to enable law offenders aged less than 18 years to enjoy special treatment in the eyes of law and bar the death penalty.

Thereafter, the Juvenile Justice System Act (JJSA) was enacted in 2018 repealing the Musharraf-rea JJSO in order to provide more protection to the underage facing criminal litigations across the country.

The latest legislation also centers around the “best interest of the child” and introducing the new concept of juvenile rehabilitation in the country.

The SHRC sent a letter on Oct 4 to the registrar of the high court, seeking establishment of a mechanism for free legal assistance to the child offenders.

According to the letter written by SHRC chairman Iqbal Ahmed Detho, there were 385 detained child offenders in the province as per the data provided by the IG prisons and due to sensitivity of their age, these juveniles should be treated in a rehabilitative manner to reintegrate them back into the society and thus, it was essential to offer them free quality legal aid as mandated in the JJSA as well as in the Constitution, it added.

Published in Dawn, October 23th, 2023

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