Committee on the Rights of the Child
Day of General Discussion
State Violence Against Children
Friday, 22 September 2000 – OHCHR (Palais Wilson, Geneva)
Joint submission by
Save the Children & UNICEF – South Asia
STATE VIOLENCE AGAINST
CHILDREN: SOUTH ASIAN
Submitted to the Committee on The Convention
on the Rights of the Child
Discussion Day September 22nd 2000
Why this paper 1
Definitions of violence 1
Conditions in custody 2
Manifestation of violence 3
Emerging trends contributing to the problem 5
Factors exposing children to the risk of State Violence 5
in the juvenile justice system
- Inconsistent legislation 5
- Low age of criminal responsibility 6
- Lack of birth registration 6
- Inappropriate definition of criminality 6
- Status offences 7
- Safe custody and abuse 7
- Administration of the juvenile justice 7
- Probation services are weak 8
- Lack of separation between children and adult, 9
criminal and non-criminal
- Inappropriate sentencing 9
- Lack of Juvenile Courts 10
- Low awareness of children's right 10
- Lack of effective Supervision and Monitoring 10
- Lack of Coordination, Commitment and Accountability 10
- Measures taken to address the problem 11
- By Government 11
- NGO involvement 12
Summarizing Points 13
1. Country/Organization visited
2. Questions Asked
Why this paper?
UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and Save the Children Alliance in the Central
and South Asia region took the initiative to produce this paper to provide some input to
the Committee in its forthcoming thematic discussion session State Violence against
Children to be held in Geneva on September 22, 2000. The paper is based on
information and experiences collected from the country offices in the region of the two
organisations. It focuses on children in the institutions of the criminal justice system
including police custody, institutions for children awaiting trial such as, remand homes
and borstals, correction homes and prisons. The limited information available, suggests
that systematic research on the issue has yet to be conducted. It should be noted that the
situation in Maldives and Bhutan have not been included.
The report shows that children are all too often humiliated, mistreated and abused while
incarcerated in such institutions.
Definitions of violence
Violence generally means a behaviour intended to hurt, often drived by a very strong
feeling that is not controlled and often refers to use of strong physical force.
“Violence or abuse is the deliberate use of humiliation / threat / coercion / force to
enhance one’s personal status/power at some one else’s expense, and/or constrain the
behaviour of others, and/or get ones’ needs and wants met at others cost” (Kelly,
Violence can be defined as a physical or other act of an individual or group of
individuals, that harms another person. It might also include psychological and other
attacks on a child's integrity and identity. ‘State Violence against Children’ refers to those
acts of state agents or authorities that result in physical, psychological, emotional or
sexual harm to children. However, perceptions of violence may vary from children to
policemen to lawyers.
Street children in India understood violence by state agents largely as a matter of power.
To girls living or working in the streets, adults often wield their power in terms of sexual
harassment and threats. The children said that “girls on the streets are considered
available and public property.” Some street children in Nepal said they perceive violence
as a behaviour that causes physical or mental harm, such as arrest by police while
sleeping on the street, or being severely beaten for no reason while in custody. They also
considered scolding and name calling, cursing and other verbal insults as violent
behaviour intended to destroy their self-esteem and confidence and to mark their
exclusion. Thus, to children at risk, violence may be signified by unfair treatment and
Some police officers when asked about what they perceive as violence said that violence
is physical (severe beating) as well as mental torture of people. They said that although
mental torture is hard to prove, it has a great impact on victims. Such torture could mean
making people feel isolated from a group, completely ignoring them, or discriminating
against them. They also consider certain forms of sarcastic flattery, often with lewd over
tones, as verbal violence aimed at lowering self-esteem, particularly of young girls. These
policemen seem to have an instrumental view on violence. Do they accept minor
physical violence to the extent that only severe beating is taken note of and seen as a
form of torture?
Some lawyers consulted for the paper stated that the nature of institutional violence in
this region is an outcome of the colonial system of administration. This placed emphasis
on institutional structures such as jails, correctional homes, as well as holding people in
custody, rather than community based alternatives to custody. These laws, institutions,
and justice structures created for adults have still not been adjusted to the special needs
Conditions in custody
Conditions for children while in detention often amount to neglect and maltreatment.
Usually, children are not given enough food and are often compelled to buy food from
other detainees or rely on family members to bring them food. One boy who spent twelve days
in police custody in Pakistan, had food only because other detainees shared food with him.1
Most often at the time of detention, police remove money from children in return for
small quantities of food. Children are then unable to buy food for themselves. Children
have also reported that most often the food when provided is stale and inedible. There is
scarcity of water and children are not provided with clothes.
“About 300-400 people live in one room. We don’t get any place to sleep. There is no blanket, no
pillows. We do our toilets in the same place we sleep. We are never taken to out side toilets in the fear
that we may escape”. Boy (15) from Bangladesh-2
The living conditions and facilities for children either in custody or prison around the
region are far from acceptable. It appears from verbal reports that custodial detention is
worse than prison because more violations occur during this period. These institutions
are over crowded, unhygienic, with inadequate food or facilities and lack of space to
sleep at night all this tending to create tensions.
In one certified school in Sri- Lanka, 40 children sleep in one room with 11 beds, there is no running
water on tap. Although there were taps and a pump, water is not given to children; they had to go to the
well. Girl children have complained of a lack of washing facilities even during their ‘periods’. There is
one toilet for fifteen-year-olds, which is often blocked and overflowed back into the room when it
happened, children have to clean the room.- 3
A fifteen- year old boy who spent a month in custody in Lahore, said “There were about twenty-five to
thirty people in the lockup. When there were more, we could not lie down. Whenever it rained, water used
to seep in from the roof”.4
There is lack of medical care, educational facilities, adequate sanitation and a healthy
living environment. In Sri Lanka, 90 children who were in one certified school, almost all of them
had scabies and angular stomatitis due to vitamin (B2) deficiency.5
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound - The Denial of Juvenile Justice System in Pakistan, page
Sonia Zaman Khan, The Issue of Safe Custody of Children in Bangladesh, Save The Children UK
(2000), page 19
Child Protection Authority and Women's And Children's Bureau; Inspection Of The Ranmuthugala
Certified School (2000), Sri Lanka
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound - The Denial of Juvenile Justice System in Pakistan, page
Child Protection Authority and Women's And Children's Bureau; Inspection Of the Ranmuthugala
Certified School (2000), Sri Lanka
Manifestations of violence
Physical and mental violence
A nine-year old street boy from Nepal shared his experiences by saying that children are
severely beaten while they are in police custody. Violence against children in prison or
custody is manifested in various forms and at several stages prior to, during and after the
trial. The magnitude and scale of this is still unclear but is almost certainly wide spread in
the region and is more frequent than currently reported. Reports may be incidental and
anecdotal but they are fairly consistent. Physical, mental and sexual violence may occur
from the moment of arrest. Children are often handcuffed when taken to the police
station, though the law prohibits this practice.
Forms of physical violence reported by children vary from slapping around the face,
being kicked, cigarette burns, to severe beatings with iron bars, rubber belts, or wooden
rods, and, as reported by one child, the wooden bar used had protruding nails. Children
reported being beaten on their thighs, ankles and heels. Another child informant
reported that he had been hung upside down from the ankles over a bucket of water and
was lowered into the water till he was unable to breathe. According to a fifteen year old
boy in Lahore, “I was beaten all over the body, and the investigating officer demanded Rs.
50,000($980) to release me”.6
A seventeen year-old boy from Faisalabad, said police arrested him after being falsely named in a gang
rape case. “They took me to the Ghulam Mohammadabad police station. I stayed there for four days. I
was severely beaten, until I was unable to walk”.7
Reports of torture include electric shocks being administered; a child reported being
forced to urinate onto an electric heater and received a severe shock. Children are also
deprived of sleep.
Violence often starts the minute the child goes into police custody; police frequently try to extort money
from the child. Those children who can afford to pay are given full privileges and are excused performing
tasks considered menial like sweeping the floors, washing clothes, and cleaning toilets and washrooms.
Those children who cannot pay are beaten by the police8 .The authorities use violent behaviour
against children to make children confess their offences, or to make children feel guilty,
or merely to exert discipline. Children spending longer periods in custody prior to their
trial, are often put to work cleaning toilets, working in the kitchen, clearing wood, cutting
fodder, cleaning trucks, digging fields etc. Staff domonstrate their arbitary powers by
assigning heavy or light work as punishement, or reward, as it were.
In addition, children are subjected to further physical abuse from adult prisoners while
they are in custody or prison, who often slap, kick and beat them and force them to do
menial tasks for them. Allegations have been made by detained children that both male
and female prisoners have subjected them to sexual abuse. Apart from physical pain,
children have stressed the psychological impact of the violence, threats and humiliation,
and the accompanying self-image of being a bad person.
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound: The Denial of Juvenile Justice in Pakistan page 4/9
Sharmeen Obaid, God Bless this Home: The Review (1999) page 6
Sexual violence varies from harassment, through threats to sexual assault, rape and
sodomy. “In most cases boys are beaten up whilst the girls are sexually abused.”
Violence against girls manifests itself in sexual abuse and rape rather than physical abuses
suffered by boys. The social and cultural values that undermine and discriminate against
girls, added to the legal loopholes that exist have made girls more vulnerable to sexual
abuses in this region. A twelve-year-old Bangladeshi girl expressed her experiences
saying, “The other girls in jail tried to do bad things to us by force. When we complained to the guard
women, they in turn complained against us and told the offenders to beat us up” 9 Girls are often
exposed to sexual harassment and exploitation during arrest and investigation periods
from other detainees as well as from the enforcement agents. For example, a fourteen year old
girl was raped and killed by policemen in Dinajpur Bangladesh, in August 1995 while she was waiting
at a bus stop on her way home. A police van picked her up, and when the villagers later found her body
the concerned policemen claimed that she was a prostitute who died jumping out of the van.10
Girls are further victimised and exploited sexually while they are detained in what is
called ‘safe custody’ awaiting trial, (Safe custody is where women and girls are placed for
safe stay while they are detained). Some of the incidences that have had occurred have
shown that those who are in such custody are at risk of being sexually abused either by
the enforcement authority or by other criminals.
A girl was raped by the police officers in October 1996, while she was in their custody in Chittagong
Bangladesh. While eloping with a co-worker at a garment factory she was brought to the police station by
a police patrol for interrogation. The officer in-charge left the police station after locking her up and on his
arrival the next day found she was lying unconscious, her clothes in disarray. On regaining consciousness
at a local hospital she stated that after the departure of the police in charge a few policemen entered her
cell and forced her to drink something which caused her to lose consciousness. She suspected that she had
been raped in her unconscious state.11
Boys are also sexually exploited. Some cases have been reported where boys are repeatedly removed
from the lockup on the pretext of interrogation, and sodomized by the assistant sub inspector, the head
constable and several other constables. (Pakistan) 12
According to Dr. Habiba Hasan, a member of Sindh’s Jail Reform Task Force, “The men
do not want to be separated from the boys. There have been reports where the jailers have been given a
hard time when they wanted to separate boys. Obviously, some of the men use the boys for their sexual
pleasure and do not appreciate the fact that the boys are going to be jailed separately.” 13
Sonia Zaman Khan, The Issue of Safe Custody of Children in Bangladesh ; Save the Children (UK),
(2000), page 21
Save the Children UK, Shashur Bari: Street Children in Conflict with the Law, page 60
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound, The denial of Juvenile Justice in Pakistan, page 4/9
Sharmeen Obaid, God Bless this Home; The review (1999), page 6
Emerging trends contributing to the problem
Several factors are contributing to the fact that larger numbers of vulnerable children are
coming into contact with the juvenile justice system and its associated state institutions.
Growing numbers of children on the streets due to urbanization
Rapid urban expansion, the migration of rural families to the cities and resulting
unemployment, homelessness and poverty has exposed numerous children to the risk of
becoming street children. This has been one of the major factors in the region
significantly contributing to ever-increasing numbers of abandoned or neglected children,
those who are found begging, homeless, living in brothels or with prostitutes, in the drug
business, or having parents unable to exercise control. Poverty, lack of employment
opportunities for many and the loss of ties and social support systems of rural areas have
resulted in breakdown of many families leaving children to make the streets their home.
Growing members of abandoned children due to HIV/AIDS
The growing incidence of HIV/AIDS, particularly in the urban areas, is seen as a major
factor for the increasing numbers of parent-less and/or single parent families. Children
from such families are increasingly at risk of being abandoned and homeless without
proper care and support forcing them to the street. Once children are on the street, there
is the risk that they will be seen as vagrants, defined as a person without a settled home
or regular work; being idle hanging around without gainful employment. Conflict with
the law and exposure to violence becomes very likely. Growing number of children who
are HIV positive or whose family suffers from HIV/AIDS are also put into state run
institutions. While the role of states is to provide care and support to such children, in
reality much needs to be done.
Growing number of displace children
Various conflicts - civil war, insurgency, militancy, ethnic and religious conflicts - have
direct bearing on the increasing likelihood of displacement of women and children. More
and more children are being being affected by civil disorder and run the risk of coming
into conflict with the law. Natural disasters in recent years, such as floods and famine
have also led to increased hardship and homelessness for both rural and urban poor.
Destitute children are at risk of being picked up on grounds of vagrancy and beggary.
Factors exposing children to the risk of state violence in the juvenile justice
The following major issues concerning State Violence pay particular attention to the
violations and discrepancies that exist within the systems in South Asia that may
perpetuate abuse or arbitrary treatment.
There is a lack of uniformity in national legislation related to the juvenile justice system,
which has created confusion in implementation and the administration of juvenile justice.
Due to unclear provisions of these various laws, in many cases the authorities cannot be
held accountable for unlawful treatment. Clearly, the consolidation of various laws into a
single form would help avoid inconsistencies and unclarities, and thus the risk of leaving
'space' for abuse of power.
Low age of criminal responsibility
There are also some disparities within the region regarding the age of criminal
responsibility. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, acts are not considered as an offence,
which are done by a person under the age of 7, whereas in Sri Lanka it is 8 years. In
Nepal, children below the age of 10 do not have to bear any criminal responsibility.
Thus, the minimum official age of criminal responsibility, as set out by State Parties in
this region, is very low and has increased the risks of many more children, including
some very young ones coming into contact with the police and law enforcement
Lack of birth registration
Due to the lack of systematic and accurate birth registration, the risk of under age
children coming into the criminal justice system has increased. Once under age children
are exposed to the criminal justice system, they are forcibly held in custody in the
absence of alternative systems such as taking a community rehabilitation approach. Even
a child who falls within the age of bearing criminal responsibility but is without a proper
birth certificate, finds enforcement authorities have manipulated his /her age in order to
circumvent the cumbersome process of age determination as provisioned by the laws. As
a consequence such children are put into the adult criminal justice system and may have
to bear long-term imprisonment or even the death penalty.“The police tell us to tell the courts
that we are nineteen even though we are younger. If we won’t say that we are nineteen, the police will beat
Inappropriate definition of criminality
Children should only be arrested, detained, or imprisoned as a last resort. There are
however, some acts, which allow authorities to arrest and detain children on the grounds
of vagrancy and/or prostitution. This is the case in Bangladesh. In India, under the
Juvenile Justice Act police have powers to pick up child beggars and bring them before
the Juvenile Welfare Board. Police officers arrest street boys and girls on the basis of
these acts. Many police misuse their power by taking bribes to release the children
picked up. This practice has contributed to a widespread ‘bribe culture’ in the police
commonly called “Hafta.”. Street children, in Bangladesh particularly girls are
automatically assumed to be sex workers and often have to pay a bribe to be released
from custody. “One day we went to a Shisu Park (Children’s Park) along with others. Suddenly,
the police picked us up without explaining anything. When we asked them about the reason, they beat us
up. We were afraid to ask again as the police had batons in their hands”.15 It is also reported that
children recognized as ‘vagrant’ do not have the right to get legal representation and are
not given proper information by the arresting officer.
Children are frequently and easily picked up from the street in periods of unrest. This
practise is more common in Bangladesh. There is an act that gives authority to the police
to arrest people on the basis of suspicion of anti-state activities which has been used
during times of political demonstrations or ‘hartals’.
Rita Panicker, Juvenile Justice, Street boy at New Delhi Police Station, page13
Sonia Zaman Khan,The issue of safe custody of children in Bangladesh, Save The Children (UK)
(2000), page 60
Status offences are offences that would not be punishable if committed by an adult, such as truancy,
running away from home or from an institution, or being beyond parental control. 16In Bangladesh,
parents and guardians can complain to the court that they can not control their children.
Uncontrollable behaviour ranges from stealing, running away from home, to drug
addiction or smoking. This can lead to institutional care or long probationary periods.
Children may be detained for long periods of three years and even more. Parents may
then be reluctant to take their children back, often due to poverty. There is no system to
monitor their stay at these centres.
Children are detained in order to correct anti-social behaviour as well as to learn life skills
and receive vocational training. However, in reality most institutions have had adverse
impact on children. The condition of the institutions in general, are very poor and they
appear to be just another form of prison or custody. Moreover, due to the lack of space
“uncontrollable” children are mixed with child offenders. In Bangladesh, two correction
homes, (i.e., Jessor and Tongi) meant for children convicted of crimes seem to be 75% filled by those boys
considered “uncontrollable” children by their parents.17 It is an emerging problem in Sri Lanka as
well, where children sometimes are brought to the town and kept in some institutions by
their parents. Children reported during an inspection of a certified school in Sri Lanka, that they could
return to a safe environment with parents or relatives and they did not want to stay in the home.18 “I
spent 7-8days in the home before my parents took me from there. It was not good. They used to make an
older boy leader beat us and every morning they would drag us to put in the queue for bathing. No body
can become good there because there is no right teacher”(India).
Safe custody and abuse
Safe custody in many cases has had a significant negative impact on the life of girls in the
region (i.e., India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). In Bangladesh, the order of
transfer to ‘safe custody’ is usually applied to girls and women who are vagrants, victims
of sexual assault, women and girls rescued from the brothels, or those rescued from the
traffickers. However, several people reported the police to arrest girls and women who
are on the street labeling them as sex workers, especially targeting the younger women, in
order to obtain a bribe from them to secure their release. Thus, the provision of safe
custody doubly punishes girls and women already the victims of prostitution and human
trafficking as a result of the exploitative and often abusive behaviour of enforcement
Administration of the juvenile justice
Despite growing concern over violations through the juvenile justice system, these
continue to occur. In the region, legal provision states that children coming before the
criminal justice system need to be produced in front of the magistrates or judge within
twenty-four hours of arrest. Judges or magistrates can then decide whether to release the
child to its family (with bail or without bail) or detain the child in custody for court
Penal Reform International, Juvenile Justice in Selected Countries in Africa, South Asia, and the
Caribbean; A Review of the Literature (2000),Page 9
UNICEF Children of Bangladesh and their rights (1997),page 66
Child Protection Authority and Women’s And Children’s Bureau; Inspection Of The Ranmuthugala
Certified School (2000 ),Sri Lanka
Rita Panicker, Juvenile Justice, Gyan 17, Rag Picker,page 12
proceedings. In practice, however, it seems that children are generally kept in the police
lock up for anything over twenty-four hours, to a week or even a month before
appearing in front of the magistrate or the court. The longer the period the children are
in custody the higher the risk of being exposed to violence and even torture. Out of twenty
juveniles interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Bahawalpur, Lahore, and Rawalpindi, police without
judicial remand, had held at least thirteen for over twenty-four hours. Eleven of those thirteen spent more
than a week in police lock ups before they were produced in court, including three who remained in
custody for one to two months.20 Usually, children who are kept in custody or prison before or
during trial or while under investigation can spend an indefinite time before going before
court or the magistrate for the hearing. In Pakistan, it is reported that in Punjab prisons
children sometimes spend more than three years in detention awaiting trial. In fact, it
appears that the law does not specify any definite time for the detention of these
children. This has allowed authorities to postpone trials and delay investigation of cases,
though authorities often claim that delays are due to difficulties in obtaining documents.
Usually, children can be released on bail while they are in custody during or prior to their
trial or while they are awaiting a verdict. If they have committed bailable offences, judges
and magistrates have discretionary powers to release children on bail, as have the police
However, in practice, these authorities seem reluctant to use their discretionary powers to
release children on bail. The laws too emphasise and favour putting children into
institutional care rather than releasing them on bail. The provision of custody and
correctional homes is often the preferred option; enforcement authorities making
decisions are insensitive or ignorant regarding safeguarding the rights of children. Families
too can not afford to pay bail and in Pakistan, ninety percent of the children in borstals come from very
poor families and have no one to post surety bonds. 21
This practice has sometimes caused innocent children to be deprived of their right to liberty, by being
detained in custody on suspicion of committing offences before trial and committal. In Pakistan, of those
held under suspicion before trial only 13-17% of them are eventually convicted22
The provision of representation for the accused during trial or pre-trial stages does not
apply to children arrested on vagrancy charges. For example in Bangladesh, children held in
custody for vagrancy have no legal representation because there is no legal provision for representation.23
A study done in Bangladesh has revealed that at least 30% of the children awaiting trial for petty crimes
like theft are not legally represented.24
Probation services are weak
In Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the provision of the probation officer is
mandatory for care and protection of those children who are in conflict with the law.
Human Rights Watch, Prison Bound; The Denial of Juvenile Justice System in Pakistan (1999),page
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound;The denial of Justice system in Pakistan page 2/13
Penal Reform International , Juvenile Justice in Selected Countries in Africa, South Asia, and the
Carribean; A Review of The Literature (2000),page 11
Fatima Rashid Hasan, Juvenile Justice ;A reality in Bangladesh Summary (2000) page ii
Nepal’s Children's Act does not have the provision of a probation service yet. The role
of probation services in investigating and reporting of juvenile case histories to the court
has a significant bearing on appropriate sentencing or custodial orders being made for
children. The concerned police is responsible for immediately informing the probation
officer following the arrest of the child held in custody. Involvement of a probation
officer can reduce the risk of children being victimised during custodial remand and
makes the proceedings of the court more transparent. However, in reality the probation
service is often non-existent or is barely functioning. For example, the entire city of Karachi is
served by one probation officer. 25Inspite of that, the rules require at least one probation officer
per district court. The few probation officers are over loaded and not trained in dealing
with children and often there is also a lack of co-ordination between the enforcement
authority and the court system.
Lack of separation between children and adults, criminal and non-criminal
There is no effective custodial or remand system that separates children according to
their case histories and type of offence committed. Children accused of minor crimes or
being ‘vagrant’ are placed with children accused of committing severe criminal offences.
It is also common practice to hold girls and women prisoners together. Due to lack of
infrastructure and skilled human resources, countries like Nepal have no facilities for
keeping children separate from adult prisoners. In Pakistan also, children are often placed in
prison together with adults while awaiting trials. 26
Abandoned or neglected children who need care and support are sometimes held with
children who are considered to be delinquent. In India it is common practice to
hold neglected and delinquent children together in the same observation homes until the
juvenile court decides the form of committal needed. Even where there are options and
facilities for separating children they are often kept together. In Bangladesh, despite the
existence of the special correctional centres in Tongi and Jessor, where children who have committed crimes
are meant to stay, they are still sent to jail. 27
Most countries in the region have prohibited the death penalty or life imprisonment for
children. The India Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 prohibits the death penalty for juveniles.
Sri-Lanka also prohibits the death penalty for those who, in the opinion of court, are
under sixteen. The constitution of Nepal prohibits the death penalty in the country. In
Bangladesh, though the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898 prohibits the death penalty
and life imprisonment for children, there are examples where they have been sentenced
to death or life imprisonment. For example, a ten-year-old boy has been sentenced to life
imprisonment he is presently residing at National Correctional Institute in Bangladesh.-28 According
to the Act judges and magistrates, before deciding on imprisonment, have the
responsibility of examining the circumstances relating to the individual child. In practice
however, children are imprisoned or even given the death sentence with little
consideration to their background or the nature, and relevant circumstances of the crime.
Children are also denied a fair hearing since they often have no legal representation
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound;The denial of Justice System in Pakistan,page 4/13
Penal Reform International, Juvenile Justice in Selected Countries in Africa, South ASIA and the
Caribbean, (2000), page11
Rachel Kabir, Making a difference for children of Bangladesh (1998), Page 38
Fateema Rashid Hasan, Justice for Children; The reality in Bangladesh, Save The Children (UK)
(2000) page ii
during court proceedings. Though the court has the power to discharge children into
suitable custody like correctional homes, or put them under the supervision of the
probation officer, this practice does not exist. During 1997, there were 38 children under death
sentence in 9 prisons in Punjab Province, Pakistan.29 In Pakistan, eighty seven percent of the convicted
children held in Bahawalpur borstal during March 1998 were serving sentences of 10 years or more, with
a most frequently imposed sentence being 25 years. Similarly, in Pakistan, the most recent case involved
A boy, was hanged in Hyderabad Central Prison on Sept 30, 1997. The boy had been sentenced to
death in August 1991 for an armed robbery and triple murder committed in 1988, when he was 14
Lack of Juvenile Courts
Although a proper juvenile justice system requires the establishment of separate juvenile
courts, very few juvenile courts have been established within the region. The cases of
juvenile offenders need to be heard separately from adults and proceedings of juvenile
courts should not, except in exceptional circumstances be open to the public. Even in
those cases where adult and children are both charged with the same offence, the child’s
case should be tried in a separate court. Where juvenile courts exist, they are still presided
over by ordinary magistrates and judges who lack the skills and knowledge needed in
dealing with children’s rights. Due to their usually heavy workload, no thorough
investigations may be made.
Low awareness of children rights
Law enforcement authorities like the police, magistrates, jailers, judges and probation
officers, in general are frequently unaware or ignorant of children’s rights and special
needs. Their insensitive attitude and lack of understanding has resulted in violations of
children’s rights. The enforcement authority always makes decisions on behalf of the
children. For example, according to the Children's Act of Bangladesh, police are required
tok o consult the magistrate prior to bringing the children to court to decide where to
send them. However, in practice they do not consult the presiding magistrate on where
the children should be taken.
Lack of effective supervision and monitoring
Effective implementation of the Acts, adequate care and support for children in state
care and effective monitoring and supervision of these system and institutions still seem
to be required in this region. For example, in Bangladesh the law has provision for an
advisory board that ensures quality services in vagrant homes. However, in reality the
advisory board does not exist.
Lack of co-ordination, commitment and accountability
There is also lack of proper co-ordination among legislative, administrative and the judicial agencies
responsible for the administration of juvenile justice.31 No one takes continuous responsibility of
the child. Above all, there seems to be a lack of commitment among concerned
authorities for the effective implementation of the act. Due to the lack of an
accountability culture, authorities are not held responsible concerned or responsible for
fulfilling their duties.
AGHA Child Right Cell, Lahore (1997); Children in Prison, Punjab Report, page 7
Human Rights Watch (1999), Prison Bound;The denial of Juvenile Justice in Pakistan, page 5/13
Goonesekere Savitri,Children, Law and Justice: A South Asian Perspective, page 276
Measures taken to address the problem
During the last decade, there had been some visible efforts by governments to protect
and support children at risk, also of those who come into conflict with the law. They
have made the commitment to reform the legislation in line with UN Convention of the
Rights of the Child.
One of the important steps the Government of Bangladesh has taken towards
harmonizing national law and policy with the Convention, has been the formulation of a
National Policy on Children (awaiting approval). Among other objectives that have direct
bearing on realisation of the rights of the child, two of them are specifically related to
children in conflict with the law: a) providing assistance to children in difficult
circumstances, and b) protecting children’s legal rights to protect them from
The Royal Government of Bhutan, recognizes the potential of juvenile delinquency as a
problem in the future if preventive measures are not taken in time. A Juvenile Law called
the Administration of Juvenile Justice Act has been drafted and a "Youth Development
and Rehabilitation Centre" and awaiting enactment by the National Assembly.
During the past decades, the approach of law in India towards neglected, destitute and
delinquent children has further liberalised and rationalised with the enactment of the
Children’s Act in 1960 and later the Juvenile Justice act in 1986.The measures taken by
the government to harmonize national law and policy with the provisions of the
convention include the incorporation of these into government programmes and
activities at the central and provincial levels. There has been a greater interest and
willingness to work with non-governmental organisations and some good examples can
be found. Various processes to review laws and sensitise the legal system have been
In Maldives, rules relating to the administration of juvenile justice are contained in the
Penal Code, the Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child and circulars issued by
the Presidential Office and Ministry of Justice. A separate Child Protection Unit has been
established at Police Headquarters, which oversees procedures involving minors and also
cases of child abuse. A separate Children’s Detention Centre has also been established
recently, that ahieves the main purpose of keeping juveniles away from the adult prison
system. A set of guidelines for the investigation, adjudication and sentencing in respect of
offences committed by Minors was approved in early 1999.
In May 1992, the Children’s Act was enacted in Nepal, to protect and safeguard the
rights and interests of children. This Act, was drafted by the Nepal Law Reform
Commission and the Ministry of Law and Justice and covers nearly all aspects of rights in
other instruments as well. Appropriate bodies and units have been set up at central to
provincial levels to ensure that the rights and interests of children are incorporated in all
processes involving policy development and programme implementation. National and
District Level Child Welfare Boards are being set up. Juvenile Courts are still to become
a reality but the government has announced its intention of setting up of juvenile
In 1991, the Pakistan Government adopted the Islamabad Declaration on survival,
Protection and development. The Punjab Youthful Offenders Ordinance and several
other laws under the constitution of Pakistan provide for meeting the rights of the child.
In recent years work has been initiated to analyse and compile all the legislation
concerning children which it is hoped will facilitate an overview of legal protection
available for children to organisations and individuals. Pakistan has also just adopted a
new legislation that provides for protection of children who fall within the juvenile
In Sri Lanka, the Penal Code, the Children and Young person’s Ordinance,, vagrants
Ordinance and several other ordinances specify the law relating to children under the
juvenile justice system. The government is also considering vocational training
programmes in certified institutions as part of the rehabilitation process.
Also it could be noted that some governments have introduced children’s and women’s
desks or cells in police stations staffed with trained personnel. In most countries projects
are carried out to raise awareness among the police and the judiciary about the needs and
rights of children and women, and there are examples to that end of new curriculum for
police academies. However, the impact of these interventions has not yet been evaluated.
UN agencies - in particular UNICEF and the Office of the High Commissioner of
Human Rights – as well as some bilateral donors have shown growing interest in the field
of juvenile justice and actively supported the above developments.
Non-governmental organizations promoting children's rights have brought the issues of
violence, abuse and maltreatment of children in the juvenile justice systems to the surface
and into the realm of public debate. These groups have increasingly been lobbying for
law reforms and policy changes, and then effective enforcement of the laws. They have
been instrumental in child rights training of police and judiciary as well as in the
introduction of reporting and complaints systems.
There are also numerous NGOs involved in various support programmes for children on
the streets, in custody or in prison. There are also examples of NGOs working as agents
running institutions for government. In India, for example the government has engaged
an NGO in running observational homes in Delhi on an experimental basis. Police bring
neglected children to the home, they get some months of care and training in a non-
custodial environment while the NGO is working to return these children back in to
their own community through identifying their parents and then having regular follow up
and home visits. The appropriately qualified staff working with the children and the
probation officer responsible for the child is using a counselling approach. These are
innovative practices to learn from.
Despite the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by all the
States in this region, information suggests that children are frequently suffering from
various forms of violence perpetuated by the state. State violence against children occurs
first and foremost during the pre-sentence period of arrest and detention when under the
law enforcement authorities – the police, the prosecutor and the court. There are also
reports on violence against children once they are sentenced and in detention in
correction homes or prisons. Violence occurs both in terms of violations of standards of
treatment by the law enforcement authorities and in terms of lack of protection against
direct violent behavior both by their own staff and other detainees. While the
enforcement authorities are supposed to provide support and protection to children they
are quite often violating the law and misusing their power. During the last decade efforts
have been made to improve the situation of children in conflict with the law by
introducing legal reforms and by setting minimum standards for treatment of children
residing in state institutions. Police and judges have been trained in child rights and how
to deal with children, boys and girls. Special desks for children with trained staff have
been set up in some police stations. However, the impact of these measures in terms of
reduced violence against children still has to be seen.
Some findings to take note of
Systematized information on State Violence against children is not available.
Information is usually built on specific cases reported in media, small scale research
and random interviews.
Children are in general not seen as individuals with human rights to be respected,
protected and fulfilled by the State. The full range of discriminatory behavior
elsewhere in society – against girls, lower casts, certain ethnic groups or other
vulnerable groups may be even more strongly reflected in the vulnerable situation of
arrest and detention.
Children’s rights are further violated due to the inappropriateness or unclarity of the
legal provisions. In several countries in the region there is a lack of uniform and
comprehensive legislation for the proper administration of the juvenile justice
By setting the age of criminal responsibility for children at the lower end more
children are exposed to coming into contact with the juvenile justice system, and at a
very early age increasing the risk of injury and damage.
Acts to detain children on the ground of vagrancy, prostitution and beggary have
made children, especially children living on the streets more vulnerable to custodial
Once children come in contact with the juvenile justice system, the enforcement
authority – read the police - usually considers them to be guilty rather than innocent
which means they are less inclined to bother finding their parents or to look for
alternative solutions to detention.
The practice of delayed and prolonged investigation has caused children to stay in
detention for extended periods of time, often characterized by inadequate facilities
and an exploitative and abusive environment.
Children are often deprived of their basic rights such as enough food, water and
adequate sleep, especially during pre-trial. Their right to education and recreation is
violated. Especially so for girls. Custodial remand and imprisonment may in fact
worsen the situation of children in respect of development of livelihood and life
Children are often detained for more than 24 hours before having their case
presented to the judge or the magistrate. Furthermore children are frequently denied
Children are given long term imprisonment or even death penalty, in some cases
such sentences have not even been according to the national law.
In the absence of proper coordination among the various actors in the administration
of juvenile justice, there is scope for the use of discretionary powers.
There is an urgent need for information and training of the enforcement authorities
on the provisions of existing legislation and their implications, including children’s
human rights, as well as social skills training in the spirit to promote
decriminalization, diversion and de-institutionalization of children who might come
in conflict with the law.
Current lack of accountability in the law enforcement institutions is an overriding key
problem that has to be addressed in a broader context of good governance and rule
Violence in government institutions can not be seen in isolation. Without a culture of
respect for children, with listening and dialogue with children as common features, it
is hard to believe that the children who are most vulnerable will get the treatment
and care they are entitled to.
Most governments are acknowledging the problems of violence but usually as part of
the broader need for legal and institutional reform and not specifically targeted.
NGOs continue to play the role as watch dogs and provider of inputs for sensitizing
the police and other core groups. Some are also increasingly exploring new models
for counseling, rehabilitation and resocialisation.
Some recommendations to protect children from violence when in detention
1. Information, research and advocacy
Since data are missing more systematic collection is needed in order to understand
the magnitude and nature of the problem. The very nature of the issue makes it
sensitive and a multitude of modes might be required. Existing sources like hot-lines,
paper clips, health records etc. may be more systematically tapped in combination
with creating new information sources , see below.
Media has played an important role in highlighting individual cases of violence.
Media producers and journalists should be encouraged to continue and extend their
critical follow up on child abuse.
Conceptual clarifications are required. Violence as a broader concept than torture has
to be defined and explained. Some criteria for various types of physical and mental
violence might be useful. For South Asia a gender perspective must be stressed.
In-depth analysis of the immediate and underlying causes of different types of
incidences of violence against boys and girls in different age groups – may it be
discipline, sexual harassment or mere power demonstration is required.
Proper research on how state violence is affecting children physically and mentally,
also showing the impact on their social identity and views on societal institutions and
the political state.
Explore and share alternative means to physical and mental violence as a means of
Continue to work for change of social attitudes among public at large to foster non
acceptance of violence against children, also children in conflict with the law. Thus
the issue of violence against children in state run institutions should be linked to the
discussion on domestic and gender violence as well as corporal punishment in
2. Law and Policy making and administration
Promote completion of legal reform work in the region on juvenile justice and use
the momentum of new legislation for further commitments to practical
implementation and resource allocations.
Comprehensive reviews of the current juvenile justice systems should be made to
identify loopholes and inconsistencies in legislation with the aim of reducing the
risks of children’s exposure to violence in state institutions.
Clear standards need to be set for the living conditions in institutions where children
are detained like space, separation, hygiene etc. in child detention to minimise risks
for violence. Inspections required by special teams to follow up.
Stronger support and incentives for diversion of children from the juvenile justice
system exploring alternative modes of support to families and communities to cope
with the offender and support him/her to develop his/her life skills, self esteem and
social behaviour. Such endeavour must go hand in hand with the improvement of
separate institutions for children.
Government officials concerned and management in police and juvenile justice
institutions should be encouraged to make public commitments that violence against
children is unlawful, not accepted and will be punished. Such commitments should
then be made visible in the police station, put on the wall.
3. Capacity Building
Assessment of the impact of current trainings of police and judiciary in order to learn
lessons and find models for effective and scaled up training of the police and
judiciary on children’s rights and related issues in the future. Such education/training
needs to become an integrated part of the regular curricula of police academies and
training institutes for government service.
Further development of training capacity and tools is required in order to specifically
address the issues around violence. The special needs of boys and girls during
adolescence and how violent may interplay should then be taken into account.
Differentiated modules/models for different groups of officials and staff may be
The capacity of probation staff – both with regard to quantity and quality – must be
developed. Probation officers have an important role to safe guard children and to
support them when abused or maltreated.
States should demonstrate examples of excellence striving for non-violent
institutions. Criteria for such institutions and indicators for non-violent behaviour
against children may be worked out.
Promote the process of social reintegration with an emphasis on strengthening the
family unit and the role of community in preventing children from getting into the
juvenile justice system and preparing them to support children in detention and to
receive them once they are leaving prison or other custodial environment.
Explore experiences -also from other regions -on the restorative justice approach
based on the recognition of both the offender and the victim, trying to heal the
wounds of both parties affected by an offence, and see how these can be piloted.
4. Support of children
Legal aid cells should be supported. Lawyers and NGOs willing to support children
in detention could be funded, for example, to facilitate a regular arrangement for
getting children bailed out.
Immediately when arrested, children should be informed by the police about their
rights and where to turn in case of complaints. NGOs could develop posters, book-
let, pictures – easy materials to pass on the information.
Include rights and non-violence messages in education. Through education,
recreation or other group activities children’s rights to be protected -also how to
protect themselves -as well as non-violent conflict solving could be brought up and
practiced. NGOs have a role to play in piloting.
Transparency and public control has to be built into the systems. Records about the
child’s health and well being should be kept which are accessible to the child, his/her
family, probation officers, social workers and legal defence.
Monitoring and supervision of staffing and services within the institutions of
detention – in police custody, remand homes, prisons etc. need to be improved.
Internal but outside teams for supervision may be required.
Observers from outside to minimise isolation of the child. Facilitate visits by family
and friends. NGOs should be allowed and encouraged to set up visiting schemes
both for social and monitoring purposes.
Independent complains mechanisms should be developed either using existing
offices of human rights commissions or through other reference mechanisms
working as a children’s ombudsperson, preferably at sub-national or local level.
Improve the reporting on violence by state parties and alternative reporters to the
CRC Committee following its guidelines. Further emphasis may also be paid on
the issue by the Committee during its examination and to what extent former
Concluding Observations to that end have been adhered to.
1. Countries and organisations visited
1. Bangladesh Retired Police Officers Welfare Association (BRPOWA)
2. Terres De Homes, Bangladesh
3. UNICEF, Bangladesh
4. CONCERN, Bangladesh
1. Directorate of Social Welfare
2. Department of Women and Children Affairs
3. University of Delhi, Law Department
4. PRAYAS, observational home
5. Butterflies (NGO)
1. Bal Mandir (Children’s Home) Naxal
2. UNICEF, Country Office, Nepal
3. CWIN, Child Workers in Nepal
4. CVICT, Center for Victims of Torture
5. Police Headquarter, Women Cell
2. Questions asked
1. How do you define violence or what is your perspective on violence?
2. To what extent are children at risk of being abused by the enforcement authority?
3. What is the situation of children who resides in custody, prison or correctional
4. How do the enforcement authorities perceive children and how are they treated?
5. Are these State institutions meeting the minimum required standard set out by the
6. What sorts of policies are there to safeguard these children while they are in these
7. Are those polices practiced adequately?
8. What knowledge and skills do staffs have for dealing with children?
9. What are the major issues concerning the right’s of these children?
10. What has been done so far by Governments to improve children’s situation?
11. How does government ensure the rights of children are safe guarded when they are
inside these institutions? Is the monitoring and supervision system working well?
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