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November 22, 2017
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Jailed children paying for the sins of others

Karachi

November 22, 2017

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Seventeen-year-old Sami Rehman, who matriculated last year with flying colours, is behind bars, thanks to a jirga of family elders seeking to settle a dispute between relatives.

When the police brought Sami in court for the hearing, all the family members who had been fighting with each other pleaded for releasing the boy.

“My relatives got into a dispute over property that later turned violent, so my family elders called a jirga to resolve the issue. They decided to nominate me as accused because the victim party had already lodged an FIR,” Sami told The News at an event organised at the Central Jail Karachi by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Tuesday.

“After matriculating I was quite excited to start college, but I’ve been locked up for the past six months,” the teenager lamented, expressing his concerns about his future. However, he is determined to continue his education after being freed. For the time being, he assists the police at the central prison’s Youthful Offenders Industrial School in everyday tasks.

Another teenage boy recounted his tale that started with a night out with friends, but ended with his imprisonment. Fourteen-year-old Taimoor Shah was returning home from Tariq Road on a motorbike when the police stopped him near Askari Park in PIB Colony and asked to see his driving licence.

When he failed to produce it, the police demanded Rs5,000 to let him go. When he failed to comply again, he was taken to the PIB police station and booked on charges of robbery and possession of an illegal weapon.

Taimoor said his father was a drug addict and suspected that maybe he was being punished for his father’s crimes. “I was threatened with being killed in a fake encounter to make me repeat in court the statement that the police had prepared for me.”

The boy used to work at a garments shop in Saddar’s Zainab Market. Once the sole breadwinner for his family, he has been locked up for the past 20 days. He wishes for his freedom, but does not have the faintest idea how to prove his innocence in court.

Zahid Ahmed, a police constable on duty at the Youthful Offenders Industrial School, said that 35 to 40 per cent of the imprisoned children were school or college students. “Criminals or blood relatives who commit crimes often use their children’s names to evade the police.”  

Goodwill ambassador

“It’s disheartening to see children imprisoned for petty crimes or drugs ruining the lives of young people. If I can help just one child out of prison or convince just one boy or girl to turn away from drugs, I’ll feel proud for making a difference,” said Shehzad Roy on accepting his two-year assignment as UNODC national goodwill ambassador.

Roy said the UNODC’s work was commendable in the fields of criminal justice, drug demand reduction and HIV/AIDS prevention. “These things are close to my heart, especially when children are concerned, and I give my all to my new role as goodwill ambassador for the UNODC Pakistan.”

Talking about teenaged offenders, the singer told The News that comprehensive legislation was needed for jailed children because court procedures took time. “Sometimes, the courts declare these children innocent, but they remain deprived of education and can’t shake off the stigma of being in prison after returning to society.”

He admitted that the UNODC Pakistan did not have a programme to arrange classes or send teachers to the Youthful Offenders Industrial School to teach the children who were enrolled at schools or colleges.

He said that majority of the children were involved in crimes because their families lived below the poverty line. “We can make some positive changes for the jailed children in collaboration with the judiciary and civil society through awareness.”

The UNODC has been working in Pakistan for the past 35 years with the country’s successive governments and NGOs to address the challenges relating to drugs and crimes.

The event was attended by representatives of the UNODC, Sindh’s home and health departments, the ministries of narcotics control and foreign affairs, the police and the judiciary, as well as diplomats.

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