Report deplores treatment meted
out to children in Pakistani jails
Children detained in Pakistani jails routinely suffer abuse, including torture by police, according to a new report released on Thursday by Human Rights Watch.
Often jailed with adult prisoners, children in police custody receive the ''same deplorable treatment,'' says the 147-page report - 'Prison bound: the denial of juvenile justice in
The treatment includes ''various forms of physical torture,
including being beaten, hung upside down, or whipped with a rubber
strap or specially designed leather slipper,'' the report says.
Based on site visits to several institutions in Punjab, as
well as interviews with prison personnel, prosecutors, legal aid
lawyers, judges and human rights activists, the 147-page report
declares that nine years after Pakistan ratified the UN
convention on the rights of the child, children who run up against
the law there are denied basic protection.
Under the convention, children in detention should be confined
away from adults, guaranteed a right to counsel and the timely
processing of their cases. These standards, however, are met only rarely, according to the
Despite a law requiring police to bring criminal suspects before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, children spend as much as three months in detention before seeing a judge. Even
then, cases are subject to lengthy delays.
Of the 2,700 juvenile prisoners in Punjab province in February 1998, 91 percent were awaiting the conclusion of their trials, a process that takes months or even years.
While their trials are pending, children languish in overcrowded, often harsh detention facilities with little or no educational or recreational opportunities, the report says. Worse, the conviction rate, once these cases come to trial, is less than 20 per cent.
If convicted, however, children often receive harsh sentences of ten to 25 years, according to the report.
In February 1998, 55 children were awaiting execution on death row in Punjab province alone. Capital punishment against children under the age of 18 is forbidden by the UN convention.
Although capital sentences often are commuted on appeal, Pakistan remains one of only six countries that are known to have executed juveniles during the last decade.
Severe overcrowding is ''all pervasive.'' The juvenile ward of the Lahore district jail, for example, houses three times as many children for which it was designed, the report says.
Children are housed in dormitory-style barracks and sleep either on the floor or on raised cement blocks. No mattresses are provided.
Despite requirements under the UN convention that all detained children - both before and after conviction - should receive treatment designed to rehabilitate them and have them returned to their communities, HRW found that education and vocational training remain severely limited.
The one exception is religious instruction which is a priority in all three facilities visited by the group. This stems largely from a law that grants prisoners a two-year reduction of their sentence if they can demonstrate that they have memorised the entire Koran, according to the report.
Torture is common before trial when it is used to obtain confessions or information about a case, the report says. Police also rely on it to punish, intimidate or extort money from the
detainees or their families. ''In addition, children are vulnerable to sexual assault by
police,'' the report says.
In May 1998, one 13-year-old boy, Ghulam Jilani, died in
police custody in the northern town of Mansehra. Although the
police initially reported it as a suicide, a fellow detainee's
account provided to HRW indicated that he had died after ''severe
and prolonged torture.''
Public protests against the apparent murder resulted in the
arrest of the police station's head constable and a judicial
inquiry, the report said. But this case was extremely rare.
Because there is no independent mechanism by which police abuse
can be reported, such cases rarely see the light of day.
Two of Pakistan's four provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have laws
for the creation of juvenile courts and vocational training
schools, but these have yet to be fully established, the report
Only Karachi, which has a functioning juvenile court and a
separate juvenile institution, has begun to comply with the basic
standards of a juvenile justice system.
''Pakistani authorities have to address this justice crisis for
children,'' said Lois Whitman, who heads HRW's children's rights
division. ''It's a matter of the utmost urgency.''
Tell us what you think of this report