Victimized Childhoods

Posted: August 25, 2008 in General
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Victimised Childhoods

WHAT does our national conscience have to say about the shocking arrest of 10-year-old Sikander Abro in Larkana? He was arrested on the suspicion of being involved in a theft and, according to reports, spent a week in illegal confinement. The report adds that the boy was in a ‘disturbed state of mind’. Unsurprisingly, given our desensitised police stations, a child in custody is perhaps more threatened than his peers on the streets. To this day, civil and official campaigns have failed to protect children from shackles, handcuffs and humiliation by police personnel. Abro is clearly not alone in his misery — a report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) presents morbid figures of Pakistan’s juvenile offenders; approximately 2,200. An NGO research reveals that over 70,000 children populate the streets of Karachi and are vulnerable to both crime and criminals. For this reason, Sparc’s document demands that the age of criminal responsibility set at seven years in Section 82 of the Pakistan Penal Code be raised to a minimum of 12 years.

The dismal state of Pakistan’s impoverished children persists despite the fact that the country is a signatory to international conventions, such as the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action that require it to provide opportunities to its children to achieve their full potential and protect them from abuse. Meanwhile, the issue of child protection is also a part of the Millennium Development Goals. Yet not enough is being done for children especially in remote recesses of the country which are entirely bereft of an understanding of child rights. An environment conducive to healthy childhoods can only emerge if the police and the media are sensitised towards the treatment of child offenders. First and foremost, and as in Sikander Abro’s case, the identity of a juvenile offender must not be disclosed and violators must be liable to penalty. The Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance 2002 laid down the Ethical Code of Practice for the Media by stating “in the case of sexual offences and heinous crimes against children, juveniles and women, names and identifying photographs shall not be published”. Perhaps some reforms are in order; crimes cannot be limited to ‘sexual’ or ‘heinous’ but be crimes in general and the edict should apply to ‘suspects’, especially in the case of women and children. On the other end, parliamentarians and legislators need to review existing laws, data, detention facilities, including borstals and police stations, to ascertain that ‘conventions’ and ‘ordinances’ are not mere documents but devices that promote child-friendly processes.

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