March 3rd, 2021
By Shaukat Korai
Pakistan’s first two special juvenile courts have formally begun operating in Karachi’s district East and Malir on March 1, three years after the National Assembly passed the Juvenile Justice System Act (JJSA) in 2018.
The Sindh High Court Chief Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh inaugurated the Malir court while Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar opened the court in district East.
A waiting area has also been set up for children in order to separate them from those accused of major or heinous crimes. In order to ensure speedy justice in cases involving juveniles, investigating officers, lawyers, and 634 judicial magistrates were provided special training in this regard at the Sindh Judicial Academy.
According to Group Development Pakistan, a non-governmental organization, there are a total of nine juvenile courts under the jurisdiction of their respective districts and session courts – one each in the Islamabad Capital Territory, Punjab, and Balochistan, two in Sindh, and four in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan’s prisons currently house a total of 1,962 children of which 431 are girls.
Karachi-based Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed opined that the establishment of the special courts is a welcome development.
Children around the world are provided a safe environment when they must frequent courts, but in Pakistan’s case, there was plenty of delay in creating these special juvenile courts under the ambit of the JJSA.
“Children in such cases are not just offenders but victims in a sense as well. Juvenile offenders are handled differently than otherwise normal, hardened criminals the world over. Children are tried separately, they have legal procedural safeguards that are not available to adults,” he explained. “In the past, rather than establish special courts for children, a notification would be issued to sitting district and session judges to hear their cases.”
According to human rights lawyer and General Secretary of Madadgaar Helpline, Zia Ahmed Awan, special juvenile courts will garner the importance children’s cases deserve, however, there is a pressing need to improve the existing juvenile justice system.
“The law is so complex that the problems that are plaguing the establishment of special juvenile courts will persist. There will be conflicts in judgments,” he said. “Moreover if our judges, prosecutors, police and jail authorities are not juvenile-friendly, how can one expect to change the entire fabric of things?”
Although he gives credit where credit is due, but to redress the failings of the justice system, there is a need to significantly alter the very system itself. Mr. Awan also stated that rather than prison, children should rather be housed in rehabilitation centers.
“We need a comprehensive juvenile justice system, we cannot just make do with courts and laws.”
He further added that the needs and concerns of children should be given priority, however, there appears to be no political will to do so as was apparent when it took three years for Pakistan to get its first special juvenile courts three years after the law passed.