There are Constitutional obligations on the State to ensure basic necessities for the child and to special law for the well-being of the children. Article 15 (d) states that 'it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens - the right to social security, that is to say, to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, suffered by widows or orphans or in old age, or in other cases'.
Article 28 (4) provides that 'nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making special provision in favour of women or children or the advancement of any backward section of citizens'.
In Bangladesh, the state intervenes in a variety of ways, particularly with children in the street, child vendors, victims of crimes, offenders both petty and serious, uncontrollable children, children with disabilities, destitute, orphans etc. The government often at the wish of parents has too often opted for the institutionalization of these children. Formal diversion is seldom used.
How children normally get arrested: Police arrest children from various important city points for roaming around, suspicious movement, vending & begging in restricted areas. Children are also arrested by the police due to orders from higher ups to clean up areas and particularly during visits or programmes by VIPs. Police raid the dens that are prone to various criminal activities and arrest children. Also during and prior to political strikes, street children are arrested for picketing, throwing rock & hand bombs etc.
Children are arrested for selling and carrying drugs, arms & ammunition and explosives. During raids on criminal dens, children are arrested on murder or attempt to murder charges. During any radical occurrence in any area, police arrest the innocent street children from the area and file false and fabricated charges against them. On occasions, police arrest children due to complaints by residents of neighborhoods.
Charges against Children: The project team has rescued and released children from police custody, vagrant homes, juvenile correctional centres, adult jails, courts etc. The project is also legally representing children in courts for acquittal from judicial custody. Through this work, we have been able to identify the major and minor offences that have been brought against the children as well as those children who are actually not offenders but victims of circumstances.
These Major offences are: Carrying/selling drugs, Hijackings, Stealing, Abduction, Collecting toll by force, Throwing hand bombs, Robbery, Murder/Attempt to murder, etc. The Minor offences; Vagrancy, Suspicious roaming, Pilfering/Pick pocketing, Suspect as sex workers, Vending in restricted area and Begging in restricted area and the Victims of situations: Physical & sexual abuse, Trafficking, Social and political unrest, Early and Unregistered marriage, Dowry and Witnesses of crime, etc.
Changing attitudes and perceptions in the courts of law and influencing the practice of law: The success, however, is accompanied with failures in certain respects. Examples of these may be catalogued as under - The lawyers' team failed to have any significant effect on the delay in disposing of cases.
Delay in court cases is a malady beyond the scope of the children comes into conflict/contact with the law project. Yet, attempts have been made in several cases to speed up the procedure. It appears that in respect, little can be done. Aparajeyo team's attempts to get the police submit their investigation report without any delay also failed in general.
Our team tried their best to avoid the petit kickbacks in the courts of law, e.g. giving 100 taka to the court clerk so that the next date is fixed earlier. However, it appears that the other party resorted to this technique and thus caused much delay in court proceedings.
Treatment of children during arrest and custody: During our work with children in conflict/contact with the law, the project team has been well positioned to observe and record the prevailing practices by the police/law enforcing agency and other institutions. These are: In a number of cases, the parents of the child compromised out of court with the other side.
This happened mainly in the cases where the child is a victim. Despite best efforts by the social workers and the lawyers, no conviction could thus be obtained in a number of cases. For example: Case-1 the victim's father received money from the other side, Case-2 the parents were convinced by outside lawyers that the best way to end the case was to bribe the Magistrate, accordingly, they took up there case elsewhere. Case-3 the parents received money from the accused and gave false statement before the police. As a result, the police submitted final report.
Neither the juvenile Magistrate, nor any of the members of the other agencies: the police, probation officers, lawyers, social workers, jail administration, or reporters have any orientation on the special procedures. The Children's Act and the UNCRC-United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children and general human rights are mentioned in some of the professional training. The staffs of the courts need special training in dealing with the children cases.
We are not hesitant to spell out that Aparajeyo Bangladesh has been implementing a four years project financially supported by EU-European Union on "Improve the institutional responses to the children in contact and conflict with the law" in twelve working areas with twelve police stations, formed twelve child welfare committees with five partner non-government organizations in Bangladesh.
We are anticipating that this project is heading towards a successful working approach in the country and elsewhere even though there are lines of boundaries and some unanswered sentences with note of interrogations.
Considering the complexities and magnitude of the children's situation in the context of Bangladesh the "Improve the institutional responses to the children in contact and conflict with the law" project is taken as a challenge by Aparajeyo-Bangladesh rather than from the wide-ranging feelings of a non-government organizations/civil society organizations managed time bound project.
The following points indicate that the project has been successful to a large extent. If the project had not intervened at this stage these group of targeted children would have been languishing in the schools of crime socializing with hard-core criminals thus contributing to generating many of the children/youth as the future juvenile criminals. However, during our "Improve the institutional responses to the children in contact and conflict with the law" project duration we have reached:
2200 children have been released from police stations, vagrant home, correction centre. 1332 children, among them there were 847 boys and 485 girls who were rescued and released from police custody thus preventing them from appearing in the courts and being sent to the vagrant home or sentencing to the Kishore Unnayan Kendra. 800 children charged by the police and released on bail by the social worker and we referred to network of non-government organizations where they have access for rehabilitative services.
1049 children (612 boys and 437 girls) were referred to their families by the Child Welfare Committee members. Panel lawyers managed to bail and refer 423 children; among them 117 were boys and 306 girls to their families; 24 children under trial were released by the lawyer panel on bail and referred to Aparajeyo's safe shelter homes in Dhaka and Chittagong.
800 children at risk referred to AB's safe shelter; 1450 children were reintegration CCL cases done through Child Welfare Committee members and 61 of children under trial were acquitted. However total 470 children's cases still continuing and we are anticipating all these cases will continue even after the end of this project with the support from our Panel of lawyers.
The writer is executive director, the Aparajeyo-Bangladesh
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