Trial of children under the Anti Terrorism Courts

Islamabad: The Institute for Social Justice (ISJ) is concerned about proposed anti children amendments in the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), 2000, and trial of children by Anti Terrorism Courts in Pakistan.

The Ministry of Interior Pakistan has drafted a Bill called Juvenile Justice System (Amendment) Bill, 2012, that is being approved by the Cabinet for submitting in either house of the Parliament.

The ISJ fears that if the JJS Amendment Bill 2012 passed by both house of the Parliament, children in conflict with law will formally or legally be deprived of all basic rights enshrined to them in the JJSO 2000 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which Pakistan ratified in 1990.

The draft bill proposes insertion of new para (ai) under Section 4 (2) (i) in the JJSO 2000, which empowers Anti Terrorism Courts (ATCs) to work as Juvenile Courts for trying cases children being charged under the Anti Terrorism Act (Amendment) 1997.

From human rights perspective, mainly from the UNCRC, the trial of children/juveniles by the Anti Terrorism Courts will have serious and negative impacts on children’s lives and well being and it is against the best interest of children.

Article 37 (b and C) of the UNCRC says that (a) the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. (c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.”

Whereas hundreds of children in Pakistan are being tried by ATCs, since in 2006 Sindh High Court allowed ATCs to try children charged under the ATA. Children accused of offences under the ATA are treated like adults and can also be sentenced to death whereas death sentence is mandatory under the ATA if the trial court convicts an accused (either juvenile or adult). The trial process under the ATC put a child through an inhuman and degrading treatment. Many among them are deprived of from the right to bail even after six months. 

The ISJ requests the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights Council and Inter-agency Panel on Juvenile Justice to take notice of these negative developments and urge Pakistan to introduce child friendly laws in accordance with the UNCRC and stop introducing the JJS Amendment Bill 2012 in the Parliament rather Pakistan should introduce a law that should ban children’s trial through ATCs.