A GIRL child, either victim or alleged offender, is amongst the most vulnerable members of society who come into conflict with the law and are easy prey for abuse and injustice.
A girl child suspected of a crime or breaking the law is met with an improper investigation and interrogation procedure by the police in Pakistan. Pakistani laws, however, are lenient towards girl child offenders. The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000 also provides extra protection and care to girl children due to their fragile and vulnerable position in society.
However, the police have been observed to not be complying with the JJSO provisions as girl children are exposed to physical torture, sexual abuse and inhuman treatment at police stations.
According to NGO Sahil’s figures, from 2002 to 2009, 286 children were abused by policemen in Pakistan, which means an average of 35 children is abused by policemen in a year. It is unknown how many amongst them were girls. There are also many unreported cases of violence and injustice against girl children at the police-station level.
In Sept 2010, the painful story of a 14-year-old girl was revealed. She was arrested along with her brother for killing their uncle. She was illegally detained at Wah Cantonment police station for 21 days. According to her, during the detention the policemen raped her.
Then she was produced before a magistrate who sent her to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi where she spent several weeks. It took very long for the girl to summon the courage to disclose the heinous crime committed against her by the police. Also, she discovered in jail that she was pregnant.
On her request the sessions judge Rawalpindi ordered for a criminal case to be lodged against the accused police officers. However, the police refused to register
the FIR against their fellow policemen. They even secured a stay order from the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench.
Whether or not she had committed a crime, she was to be treated as a juvenile and under no circumstances was she to be kept at a police station. All provincial rules framed under the JJSO strictly prohibit keeping a girl child at a police station.
Instead of getting help from the police, the girl was victimised and raped by policemen. This case is an example of when policemen fail to take action against their own colleagues. The case not only portrays the victimisation of a girl child at the hands of the police while in custody, it also indicates how commonplace
such treatment is.
The violations committed by police officials against girl children greatly reflect major weaknesses within the police system. A major problem is that police officials are not given proper attention by the provincial governments.
Therefore, there are no monitoring mechanisms in place to check violations of the rights of children, especially girls.
Police personnel are mainly taught and trained to deal with hardened criminals and to serve VIPs. They are not sensitised and trained to deal with the accused and witnesses in light of human and child rights standards.
Therefore, there are always cases of highhandedness and extreme violations by police officials.
Another area which is greatly overlooked is the investigation of cases of alleged girl offenders and monitoring of the investigation methods being used by police officers. The findings of the investigation play a central role in the judicial process.
But there is evidence in many cases that the investigation of the cases of children does not contain a single step that could ensure the rights of girl children to a fair trial. If girl children are not considered innocent until proven guilty, it means the right to a fair trial is impossible.
Interventions under the juvenile justice system at the police level can reduce the chances of a juvenile offender going to the detention centre for petty or bailable offences. Such behaviour of children can be remedied appropriately in an informal setting within the community through support, guidance and monitoring by the community and probation officers. At this level the probation department can play a central role.
However, Section 10(b) of the JJSO places the responsibility on the police to inform the probation officer concerned at the time of arrest of a child. If a juvenile commits a petty offence and is referred to an informal but humane system, it may reduce the burden of the courts and resolve the problem of overcrowding in detention facilities. Unfortunately, the probation system in Pakistan has not been given due attention.
The police treat children – irrespective of the gender or type of offence – no differently than adults. The needs of the female child victims are also not addressed. The major reason lies with the system that does not impart knowledge to the police regarding professional and humane dealing with vulnerable segments of the population such as children.
Also, the problem lies within our socially inbuilt tendency of exploiting and abusing the weaker and marginalised sections of society such as girl children. There is a lack of recourse to justice available through the police, which means that the state primarily acts as an unfair rather than a protective force.
Children, either as victims or offenders, have to be treated in a special manner as the JJSO and international obligations demand. Since the police do not follow the rules and procedures set for the treatment of children who come into contact with the law, there are lifelong impacts on the children’s moral and psychological well-being that haunt them well into their adult lives.
The writer is national manager, juvenile justice, at the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.