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Juvenile justice a far cry in Kashmir

Mithu, 13, lodged in a jail here for alleged theft, wants to go to school. But that is being too wishful. Jammu and Kashmir lacks a proper juvenile justice system and has no observation homes for children like him.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2009 12:32 IST

Mithu, 13, lodged in a jail here for alleged theft, wants to go to school. But that is being too wishful. Jammu and Kashmir lacks a proper juvenile justice system and has no observation homes for children like him.

"I want to go to a proper school where I can study and play like other children. I don't like it here," said Mithu - called simply by his nickname - who has been facing trial for six months for a petty crime.

In 1997, the state government implemented its own Juvenile Justice Act of 1986, paving the way for juvenile courts. "But that has not changed the situation. Justice delivery is slow," lawyer Shafaat Basu told IANS.

Juvenile detainees are kept locked up with other adults, sometimes hardcore criminals.

"The intermingling of juveniles with hardcore criminals is pretty dangerous. It can breed a criminal psychology in the minds of tender offenders," Basu said.

Even though Kashmir has been plagued by a bloody insurgency since 1989, there is no known case of any teenager being held in a militancy related case. However, young boys often come in the police net on charges of stone pelting.

For instance, a dozen schoolboys were arrested Oct 27 for throwing stones during protests. They were booked under various charges, including "anti-national activities". The boys were kept in a lock-up where other adult criminals and even terrorists were lodged. They were given bail later.

"We were in a regular lock-up in Srinagar with other criminals and police didn't treat us well," said a boy from the group. They also alleged that policemen sodomised some of them. The boys later complained to a court and the case is pending.

Incidentally, the state has a very low rate of child offenders. According to official figures, there are some 30 cases related to children pending in the courts.

Separate trials are held for juvenile delinquents but these are not held on a regular basis.

"In most cases, the trial revolves around finding out whether the offender is a juvenile. Medical boards to conduct tests and derive the age of these children also take a long time," Basu said.

The cut-off age to be declared a juvenile is 18 years in many states, but in Kashmir it is 16.

Prominent criminal lawyer Tasaduq Hussain, who is fighting the case of a child who has already spent almost a year in Srinagar's central jail with hardened criminals, says the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act has been defeated in the state.

"The Juvenile Justice Act, aimed to give minors who are criminals a chance to reform, adds to their sufferings," Hussain said.

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a law professor in the University of Kashmir, said, "The government and society in general are not acknowledging the problems our children face in the conflict, which has left many children orphaned and homeless."

"It is not about delinquents only. We have an army of orphans and destitute children. It is time we paid attention to their plight," Hussain said.

He advocated a separate facility for juvenile delinquents where the provision of schooling and other vocational training could be taken care of.

Basu said, "A complete overhaul is needed in Kashmir's juvenile justice system to tackle the sluggish pace of judicial processes and lack of observation homes."