THE trial of children by mobile courts and the subsequent order from the High Court to remand them on bail for six months has recently called for renewed attention to the juvenile justice system. The court order came after mobile courts had illegally jailed 121 children and kept them in child development centres in Gazipur and Jashore. No court other than a juvenile court can try a child. In compliance with the court order, 80 of the children were remanded on bail on November 25. Not only are the children tried by mobile courts, they are temporarily kept in regular prisons with adult inmates because of procedural complications and lack of resources before they are sent to development centres. Many remain in centres longer than expected as the authorities cannot produce them in court for hearing in due course of time. The situation paints a grim picture of the juvenile justice system.
The legal system for children in conflict with the law in theory took a turn towards restorative justice with the enactment of the Children Act 2013, but in practice, it still is punitive. The system is so flawed that parents need to grapple with legal bureaucracy for up to two months to track a child that the police pick up. A banana vendor in Cumilla, as the New Age weekly supplement Youth reported on December 1, had nothing but the number of an arresting officer and had to run from office to office before he could meet his son at a development centre. The Gazipur development centre for boys receives about 300 children every month; about 260–70 of them are remanded on bail, but others are left behind as the centre is not provided with the police forces required to produce children in court for bail hearing. On September 22, the centre in Tongi had 902 children against the accommodation for 300. Children live in a cramped situation. They have to play in groups and waiting for their turn a whole week, and that too for an hour. It was a policy decision on part of the government to name the facilities as child development centres as opposed to correctional facilities to mark its emphasis on rehabilitation efforts and psychosocial support, but it just was a rhetorical shift.
The juvenile justice system is far behind meeting global standards. The government must allocate adequate budget for the expansion of the centres and plan more facilities to ensure a standard living conditions for children in the system. As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government is under a legal obligation to establish a child rights-oriented juvenile justice system and act accordingly.
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