Childhood and its blessings fade in jail
ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of children are languishing in Pakistani jails with their mothers, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) has reported. According to a breakdown, 74 children are accompanying their mothers in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) jails, 93 in Sindh and several hundred in Punjab’s jails.The NGO report titled the “State of Pakistan’s Children 2005” says 67 children are in Adiala Jail with their mothers, 62 in Karachi’s women’s jail and 10 in Larkana’s. “Prison is a reality for approximately 3,500 children in Pakistan. Some are behind bars for committing serious crimes,” it says.
It says most juvenile prisoners face charges for mild crimes like stealing a bicycle, a parrot or a mobile phone. It says juvenile prisoners have rights according to the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 (JJSO). It claims that the child prisoners are deprived of these rights because most of them are poor and illiterate, lacking any means to learn about their rights. It says that lengthy court proceedings and lethargic jail officials make child prisoners suffer. “As children, they are uniquely vulnerable to ill treatment and sexual abuse at the police stations, where many are illegally held for extended periods, and in prisons. Often, their parents are not informed of their captivity. In many cases, they have little to expect from their families and the society,” it says.
Citing official data, the report claims that 1,007 out of a total of 1,196 juvenile prisoners in Punjab jails were under trial in March 2006. Ilyas Siddiqui, a lawyer, called for separate courts to implement the JJSO. “Juvenile prisoners remain under trail for long periods for lack of exclusive juvenile courts,” he said. The SPARC report held magistrates and Â“corrupt police” responsible for constant delays in cases that implicate child prisoners. It says many juveniles are rotting in jail simply because their families are unwilling or unable to pay their fines.
It pinpointed that children jailed with their mothers pay a much higher price because there is no arrangement for their rehabilitation in the jail premises. Many pregnant women have been sent to jail, where they gave birth to their children. A psychiatrist says, “Growing up in jail has a negative impact on infants’ personalities and the awkward living environment can compel a child to become a criminal.Â” It says mothers can keep children below the age of 6 with them in jail according to the law, but in Pakistani jails women take children above the age of 6 with them in jails. It says though the government provides child prisoners with clean water and soap, many have caught skin diseases like scabies because of unhygienic atmosphere and lack of proper healthcare.