Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (2000)

Imprisonment, Institutionalisation, Release
The centrality of the court in the juvenile justice process highlights the perception of this institution in Pakistan as the sole arbitrating body, with the result that alternatives: such as counselling and involvement of parents have been ignored. As one journalist put it, ‘Non-custodial measures of sentencing are not known to our judiciary and it is termed a responsibility of the court to punish all those who are involved in a crime, whether accidentally or for the first time’. In accordance with the CRC and other international guidelines, the court should be the last resource for resolution rather than the first, particularly given that most offences committed by children are petty. However, there are still no legal mechanisms or policy framework in place that offer substantial diversionary alternatives. Furthermore, although the establishment of four exclusive juvenile courts in Kohat, Peshawar, Mardan and Swat was promised in a press release of the NWFP, the provincial government are still yet to make these operational.

Implementing the JJSO
Since the JJSO came into force in 2000, there have been a number of positive developments implemented in its name:
The powers to conduct juvenile courts have been conferred to judges across the country.
Separate cells for children have been established in various central jails in order to separate children from adults.
Some of the national NGOs have started providing legal assistance to the children, while other agencies have worked with the NCCWD to build capacity of the relevant authorities.
A Youth Offender Industrial School in Karachi has been established, as well as a Borstal Jail in Bahawalpur.
On 4 December 2002, the Government of Pakistan accorded special remission on Eid-ul-Fitre (a Muslim Festival) for under-trail children, benefiting 412 children and 264 women across the four provinces.
Another initiative seeks to assist Pakistan’s remaining 3087 juvenile prisoners under-trial. The Government is processing an enabling provision whereby the withdrawing of prosecution on a one-time basis would allow thousands of children to get immediate benefit.
NCCWD initiated a process of preparing draft rules for facilitating the Provincial Governments. Draft rules were prepared in a National Consultation among the stakeholders from Federal, Provincial Government and non-governmental organizations on 19th – 20th February 2001 and have subsequently been forwarded to the relevant authorities.
A Ten Year Perspective Plan with Rs. 4.947 million has been developed for the period (2001 – 2011) for implementation of the JJSO 2000. In addition to this, another further allocation of Rs. 0.17 million has been set aside for the identification of needs / problems with regard to implementation of the acts / Ordinances / other instruments concerning social welfare including children.

Poor Awareness and Implementation of the JJSO
“The law is there but the environment needed for its implementation doesn’t exist. It’s the callous attitude of the whole society towards children and the government is not interested in improving their plight.”
Despite the progress mentioned above and the funds set aside in the Ten Years Perspective Plan, only a few of the promises made within the JJSO have been put into action, and violations of children’s basic rights continue to occur in many districts. A fundamental flaw in the JJSO has also been exposed, namely that it is not operationally retroactive, and so children whose cases took place before the Ordinance was passed (pre-2000) are not entitled to any protection under it. It is because of this oversight that there are still some 50 children on death row and numerous instances of minors serving harsh sentences, including whipping in public.
At present, a widespread lack of awareness of the principles and implementation methods of the JJSO appears to be the most serious obstacle to the protection of children in conflict with the law. In its Concluding Observations and Recommendations issued 3 October 2003, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern at the ‘poor implementation of the [JJSO] and that many of the authorities in charge of its implementation…are unaware of its existence.’ A recent Amnesty International mission to Pakistan also corroborated that at each stage of arrest, trial and imprisonment, there was wide-scale failure to implement the provisions of the JJSO.

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