Juvenile Delinquency in Pakistan

Posted on May 28, 2008
Filed Under >Irum Sarfaraz, Society
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Irum Sarfaraz

Pakistan police cops tullahThe state of juvenile delinquency in Pakistan is reaching epic proportion with neither the law nor other people associated with it willing to understand the continual and serious dangers being rendered to the health, social and moral development of these children and society.

The majority of these delinquents are ‘street children’ who are increasing rapidly in direct proportion with the brisk population growth, urbanization and above all, poverty. The result is that more and more of these children find themselves in conflict with the law for some reason or another. But what the law doesn’t realize is that by treating these juvenile in a class with adults, it is creating a never ending breed of hardened criminals that are only a menace to an already crime ridden society.

What makes the situation more critical is that out of Pakistan’s population of 165 million almost half or 49% are under the age of 18 years while 22 % are adolescent(10-18 years). Five out of seven children are denied the right of the identity by means of registration at birth and hence are not even counted as citizens. According to estimates 3 million children in Pakistan are engaged in child labor and the count continues to go up every year. When such a huge number of the population is juvenile and the majority of them are living below the poverty line, then it is only normal that these kids would have more than their fair share of run-in with the law. But in Pakistan there seems to be a lack of deliberation on the very reasons why juvenile courts were designed in the first place.

The western society has already gone through the research and ‘invented the wheel’ that proves the fatality of incarcerating juveniles with adults. It is sad that Pakistan, or most other third world countries for that matter, are not using this research to form a better justice system for their juveniles. The juvenile justice system is a branch of the criminal justice system. The fundamental difference between the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system is that since its inception the rehabilitation of juveniles is considered to be the primary goal of the juvenile justice system while that for the adults has been retribution. Juvenile courts also tend to consider the background of the offender before passing sentence while the adults are held accountable for their actions regardless of background. But none of these advantages exists for the Pakistani juvenile delinquents as there is no system of juvenile law in practice as such.

There are not only a high number of children in prisons detained in poor conditions but more concernedly, often together with adult offenders and thus extremely vulnerable to abuse and ill-treatment. There is also a very low age of criminal responsibility at 7 years with continual reports of juvenile offenders sentenced to death and executed. These cases have occurred even after the promulgation of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. In addition to all this, there are harrowing reports of torture, serious ill-treatment and sexual abuse of children by police officers in the detention facilities and other state institutions that show little regard for the necessity of detaining juvenile separately from adults.

The need to treat young people as a group dissimilar to adults when it comes to delinquency is supported by the theories of a growing diverse group of professionals who feel that youth involved with the justice system by committing delinquent acts and/or status offenses are afflicted with a myriad of issues. It has become increasingly evident that their mental health, educational and social disabilities have often been inadequately assessed or addressed and hence their behavior needs need to be resolved by keeping in mind the immaturity of their age and their restricted capacities.

Measures that place the young offenders in the same category as adults are more likely to create a population of repeat offenders and fails to respond to the root causes of antisocial behavior. Also with the growing realization that most justice-involved youth silently suffers from a variety of mental health problems, professionals have begun to seriously study both the prevalence of these disorders and how they might effectively by treated. According to a latest US national study of youthful offender laws, treating offenders under the age of 18 as adults in the criminal justice system makes it more likely that they will re-offend they emerge from prison.

Mark Ensalaco and Linda C. Majka write in their book, ‘Children’s Human Rights: Progress and Challenges for Children Worldwide’, ‘Research by Steinberg, Grisso and Scott raises the questions about the criminal culpability of juveniles. They and their colleagues surveyed fourteen hundred juveniles in four states to assess their competence to be tried in an adult court. The authors argue that juvenile should not be tried on the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults because children’s decision making capacity is not fully developed: they are less able to resist coercive influence; their assessment of risk is limited; and their personal identity is less well-formed’. If this criteria applies to the juvenile’s reason for committing the crime then it also forms a well enough reason to make their incarceration with adults more dangerous and a bigger risk to society.

There are also those critics of the juvenile justice system in the US who have sought to abolish the system arguing that it has failed in its rehabilitation efforts in not punishing serious criminal behavior by young people. At the same time the defenders of the system contend that for the vast majority of children, the system is a worthwhile means of addressing problems. It is their stand that a handful of violent juveniles who have committed serious crimes should not lead the public to believe that the system does not provide ways of changing the behavior of young offenders. They contend that a small minority of violent youths have created the misperception that the system of dealing with young people differently is a failure when in actuality it is not.

It is a recognized fact of every society that children are treated differently from adults. Though it is true that not every child can be rehabilitated, it is still unwise to abandon any efforts to put them in a class by themselves when dealing with their delinquencies. For the few juveniles who commit serious crimes and have prospects for rehabilitation, current laws do provide that they be transferred to adult criminal courts. Defenders insist that allowing this alternative is a much wiser course than dismantling the entire system. Treating young people the same as adults will not end the cycle of criminal behavior. The only positive solution to juvenile delinquency and young offenders is to treat them in a class by themselves through the intervention of juvenile courts.

If one was to review the salient features of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of Pakistan, it presents a very rosy picture. The only problem is that this rosiness is only as far as the picture goes. By definition of the ordinance, a child is a person who, at the time of commission of an offense, is below the age of 18 years. After he or she is arrested, the guardian needs to be informed as early as possible and the concerned probation officer has to be similarly informed. A child who is arrested for a non-bailable offence needs to be produced before the juvenile court within 24 hours while one who is arrested for a bailable offence must be released on bail even without surety.

The ordinance also provides for children to be detained in Borstal institution or a place where a child may be ‘detained and given education and training for their mental, moral and psychological development’. It also provides for resources and funding for the construction of these Borstal institutions around the country. It prohibits any child from being handcuffed or put in fetters while in custody, forced to suffer corporal punishment or hard labor during custody or detention and keeping children in police stations for bailable offences.

As per the requirements of the Ordinance, for trial and sentencing the child needs to be provided with free legal consultation, free medical treatment and appeal against a conviction within a 30 day period. It prohibits any joint trial of a child with an adult and any unnecessary delay in proceeding by the authorities. Any offence that carries a ten year punishment is made bailable for children less than 15 year of age and it is prohibited to publish proceedings. Lastly it prohibits any child from being sentenced to the death penalty. Sadly more than 75% of the requirement for juvenile delinquents as provided under the ordinance have yet to be implemented because even though ‘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’.

Children are the investment of any nation in its future but the poverty ridden children suffer from the day they are born in Pakistan. Denied basic amenities, food and clean water, the streets turn them into criminals and the justice system makes them professionals that have nothing to offer to society except misery. Could the state of these millions of juvenile delinquent be improved with a more conscientious justice system? Hard to assess where the damage actually begins, from the lack of basic everyday needs, from a collapsed education system for the poor children, or from major shortcomings in the juvenile justice system where the majority ends up….

15 responses to “Juvenile Delinquency in Pakistan”

  1. Khyza Hayat says:

    I just want to Hold the juvenile delinquency in any way. our Govt take interest in this matter because it is the matter of 22% people of Pakistan.

  2. yamlapagla says:

    such articles should publish in print media and electronic media as well so that people got more awareness to these social issues except irrelevant messy material that mostly our youth focused. and websites should portrate pakistani image is as good as pakistanis responsibilities……..
    more articles should write on juvenile delinquency….

  3. Adnan Younis Butt says:

    well, I just want to say that in planning we are at home but in implementation at sea. The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance is a very good piece of legislation the problem is in its implementation.

  4. Ammad Mushtaq Awan says:


  5. Mustaq says:

    This is a social and education issue more than a criminal issue. Education has to be the first step in solving it.

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