Mr. Chief Minister, is it because children cannot vote?
|August 30, 2012||Posted by Shehla Rashid under Kashmir, Politics|
12-year old Faizan Sofi was arrested, tried in an normal court, sent to a so-called juvenile home where he was allegedly harassed and humiliated. Faizan was released on bail but mentally tortured and intimidated ever since. His mother is in a state of shock and his father has advised him to skip school for a few days. Faizan’s story is indicative of our rotten juvenile (in)justice system. The State government has time and again promised that a fresh legislation will be enacted. However, even the institutions mandated by the existing legislation have not been set up yet. Is it because children below the age of sixteen (that’s the way a juvenile boy is defined in the Act) cannot vote?
Juvenile justice is not an election issue, not a ranting point for wannabe politicians who cry foul that their kids will not get to eat burgers of a certain brand if brought up in Srinagar, not a concern for self-proclaimed Kashmir analysts who would like to believe that Kashmir is happy and that all unrest is externally instigated. Even politicians of national stature have nothing to comment upon but the Dal Lake. News related to arrest of a 12-year old makes it to the twelfth or something page of Kashmir’s largest circulating daily and they don’t even get his name right. The Dal Lake area is the only “vote-bank”, so to speak, in Kashmir. Huge money is pumped into the LAWDA annually in order to nurture this precious vote-bank even though something as basic as proper public transport is a distant dream for people of this area.
I wish 12-year olds could vote and I wish they had the power to fund election campaigns and media outlets. Because, then, we would not get to witness such crass treatment of children. Before someone labels me a fan of violence, let me make it clear that a proper juvenile justice framework includes provisions for care and protection of children who are neglected and need shelter. It includes safeguards/punishment for mentally unsound children and children who, in a fit of rage or curiosity, have done something illegal. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have such a framework.
In 1986, Government of India enacted the Juvenile Justice Act. Since then, it has been amended on several occasions while the state of Jammu & Kashmir continues to follow an archaic (1985) legislation and even that was adopted only in 1996. Even the current legislation i.e. The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000 at the Centre is being amended as per The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2010.
On Saturday, the 1st of September, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. (1800 hrs) we will unite at Sri Pratap Park in Srinagar and collect signatures in favor of the following demands. Children cannot speak up for themselves, so we must.
We demand that the children of Jammu & Kashmir be treated at par with children in the rest of the country. This can be done only by amending The Jammu & Kashmir Juvenile Justice Act, 1997 and bringing its provisions at par with the Central legislation.
On 28th June, 2012 The J&K Govt assured the NCPCR that they will table a revised Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act in the Assembly but as of now even the existing provisions are not properly implemented. The valley does not have Juvenile Welfare Boards and Juvenile Courts as mandated by the existing legislation.
We demand that the government, headed by Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, amend the 1997 Act to bring in the following changes in the upcoming (26th September) Assembly session:
1. Define a “juvenile” as a boy or a girl who has not attained the age of eighteen years. (As at the Centre)
2. Make a distinction between Juveniles in Conflict with the Law (JCL) and Children in need of care & protection (CNCP). (As at the Centre)
3. Make provisions for and constitute Special Juvenile Police Units (SJPUs) and make it binding upon the police to hand over JCLs to the SJPU immediately after coming into contact with them which in turn will then hand them over to the Juvenile Justice/Welfare board. (As at the Centre)
4. Refer CNCPs to Child Welfare Committee (CWC) unconditionally and make sure that CWC is constituted. No child below the age of 18 years should be tried in a normal court.
5. Amend the constitution of CWC to specify the number of members and make it necessary for them to have at least one expert in children’s issues. (As at the Centre)
6. Constitute shelter homes and special homes. Create observation homes for undertrials. (As at the Centre)
7. Include measures to end discrimination within the Juvenile Justice Act. (As in The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2010 of the Central Government)
8. Bring in provisions for protection of the identity of the child, whether undertrial or convict. (As at the Centre)
We also want the government to drop all charges against Faizan Sofi as proper provisions for trial of minors are not in place yet. According to a report carried by a news portal, Faizan is being mentally tortured and intimidated ever since he was released on bail, as a result of which he has decided not to attend school. This should be taken note of seriously. Also, the harassmet allegedly meted out to Faizan in the juvenile home must be duly investigated and involved personnel punished.
If you happen to support these demands, please sign the petition here and let lawmakers know.