A report on the status of children in Punjab’s prisons launched on Thursday said the youngest person tried in the province had been an eight-year-old who was accused of murder.
The report was launched at Lahore press club by the child’s rights unit of the AGHS, a law firm.
Rights activist Hina Jillani said the report was meant to present a comprehensive picture of the condition of children in the prisons.
She said trends in the report highlighted the treatment of children in the criminal justice process and status of juvenile justice system in Pakistan.
She said in 2014, there were 2,606 children on trial in the Punjab.
She said the number of children in prisons was 2,057. She said the number had increased from 1,662 in 2013.
Jillani said in 2014 showed in 2014, most children had been charged with offences related to property – just as in 2013 and 2012.
She said the second most common charge was offence against the human body (32.47 per cent). She said sexual offences accounted for 21.44 per cent of the charges against children in Punjab’s prisons.
She said 9 per cent had been imprisoned for drug-related offences.
The report says that majority of the children had been charged with more than one offence. Jillani said the youngest under-trial child was eight years old and had been held at Faisalabad Borstal Institute and Juvenile Jail.
The report noted that there were 51 children under the age of 12 years.
Jillani said the CRU had sent out 82 urgent relief requests to jail authorities and sessions judges but never got a response.
She said there were only two jails in the Punjab which had been designated as borstal institutions – one in Faisalabad and the other in Bahawalpur.
She said in 2014, there were 51 admissions in Faisalabad and 12 in Bahawalpur prisons. She said 22 out of these had been sentenced to prison terms of 25 years or more.
The report said that youngest convicted children were three 14-year-olds being held in Faisalabad.
Jillani said the CRU had surveyed selected prisons to study the education programmes in prisons.
She said the biggest issue was that none of these institutions were equipped or trained for modern education programmes.
She said, “We found that most prisons have arranged some religious classes that include teaching children how to pray and recite the Quran. However, they have not been successful in providing a modern education programme that will help them once they are released,” she said.
She said the CRU had been told by prison authorities that they had contacted the Education Department but never received any assistance.
Jillani said these children should be dealt with more sensitivity.
“These children are not criminals. They are most often sent to jails by force rather than choice,” she said. The report noted that the number of children facing charges of status offences had overall declined.
The report adds that status offence of illegal entrance into Pakistan continued to affect numerous young Afghan children.
“These children are held under trial for months on despite their inevitable deportation,” the report said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2015.