THE High Court coming to have declared the trial and punishment of children by mobile courts illegal is welcome. The court gave the verdict on Wednesday as it disposed of a ruling it issued suo moto on October 31, 2019 asking the government to explain the legality of 121 children’s jail sentences by mobile courts run by the Rapid Action Battalion. The court also quashed the mobile court sentences against the children and acquitted them of the charges, mostly of drug abuse and theft, saying that there would be no criminal records on the punishment of the children. The mobile courts arrested and sentenced the children, many of whom were below 14 years while all of them were below 18 years. The court observed that allowing mobile courts to try children on drug charges would be an expansion of the mobile court’s jurisdiction, adding that the mobile courts should have forwarded the arrested children to the Narcotic Prevention Tribunals in drug abuse cases and to the Juvenile Court in other cases.
As mobile courts act as the prosecutor and the judge at the same time, which the court in the verdict at hand has called an affront to the rule of law, the constitution and the independence of the judiciary, the sentencing of children is uncalled for, because it may have negative and disastrous impact on children’s lives. Mobile courts taking juvenile cases go against both national and international laws and guidelines that safeguard the rights of children. The Children Act 2013 lays out that none other than a juvenile court can try children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bangladesh is a signatory, and the OHCHR Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System make it clear that only a child-oriented justice system can guarantee the rights of children, prevent any violation, promote children’s sense of dignity and worth and fully respect their age and stages of development to ensure their participation in and contribution to society. The guidelines also stipulate that families of accused children should be involved in the legal process to the extent that it operates in favour of the child offenders. Special procedures such as educative measures in pre-arrest, pre-trial, trial and post-trial stages should also be in place, all of which are denied by mobile courts.
The government must, under the circumstances, ensure that children are not tried by mobile courts. The juvenile court and human and children rights organisations must also be alert to any violation in legal dealings with children. A strong and child-oriented juvenile justice system is also what is called for.
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