By Ahmad Ali
In Pakistan, crimes committed by minors are rarely identified separately, which prevents them from receiving appropriate treatment, further adding to complexities. Juvenile delinquency is one of the least researched upon topics. In order to discuss Pakistan’s Juvenile justice system we first need to have a better understanding of what Juvenile delinquency is and what meaning countries across the world associate with this term. This phrase refers to breaking or failing to comply with rules. Juvenile delinquency is the term used to describe someone who violates the law and is typically under the age of 18.
Anyone who is over the legally designated juvenile age is considered an adult, and if they commit a crime, they will be tried and found guilty using the criminal justice system. A person who is younger than this age is, nevertheless, referred to as a juvenile. If a juvenile commits a crime, they are tried under the juvenile justice system and, if found guilty, are sent to a therapeutic home, rehabilitation facility, or special juvenile detention facility. A minimum age and a maximum age define a juvenile. If a person commits a crime while being under the age of majority, they are not held crime responsible; instead, the minor’s parents or guardians are held liable. This division of adult, juvenile and minor is flexible with the intensity of the crime committed.
The maximum age for juveniles varies around the world. In the United States the age of juveniles varies among the states as well. Juvenile offenders are typically under the age of 18, but some states have somewhat varying upper ages limits. In 2021, Michigan, New York, and Vermont raised the age limit to under 19, and in 2022 Vermont’s law updated again to include those under 20. Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are the only three states that still require juvenile offenders to be under 17. While the maximum age in some US states has increased, Japan has lowered the juvenile delinquent age from under 20 to 18. This change occurred on April 1, 2022 when the Japanese Diet activated a law lowering the age of minor status in the country. Just as the maximum age for juvenile offenders varies, so too do the minimum ages at which children are considered criminals and the age of criminal responsibility between countries.
Juvenile Justice System in Pakistan
Pakistan ratified the UN convention on the rights of a Child (UNCRC) in 1990. In the light of this and pursuant to the Article 25(3) of the Constitution, Pakistan has an obligation to uphold and protect the rights of children. While there have been multiple legislations in Pakistan like Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 which replaced JJSO 2000 to overcome the shortcomings of the latter, the situation remains poor. Under Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice Law, cases involving crimes committed by juveniles must be referred to district diversion committees with the consent of the juvenile or his/her guardian.
The law authorizes this Juvenile Justice Committee to handle cases with the consent of the complainant. The law provides for a number of alternative measures that the Commission may prescribe in lieu of criminal sanctions. These include reparations for damages caused, written or verbal apologies, and placement in a youth rehabilitation center. To the date, 5 years after the legislation was passed the committees are still practically dysfunctional. This is just one of many instances in Pakistan when laws are passed for mere paperwork and political point scoring without taking in account the limited financial resources, governance infrastructure and human skills.
There are currently only two borstal institutions in Pakistan, but statistics show that there are about 1,400 juvenile delinquents are in prisons, 20 percent of whom are girls. Worst of all, 90 percent of them are awaiting trial. In the worst cases in the past, the juveniles waited until they were adults to be tried before the courts that sentenced them to life imprisonment. This never grants them a chance to make themselves better citizens by putting them into rehabilitation centers. Lack of therapeutic and rehabilitative facilities results in the detention of young offenders with adults and career criminals, which is counterproductive. As one cannot put a 5 year old child in a secondary school because adult students can manipulate them to do what they want. When juvenile delinquents are placed in adult prisons, they become accustomed to more criminal behavior because older inmates who are sociopaths and psychopaths, condition their minds in certain ways.
Reasons of Violent Tendencies in Youth
No child one is born criminal rather learns to become one by what’s happening in surroundings. Criminal behavior is actually acquired and learned, an argument that Albert Bandura also emphasizes upon in his writings on Learning Theory. Thus, a possible future offender’s violent tendencies start to develop in childhood. Domestic violence, single parenthood and child labor are one of many conditions that nurture psychological conditions that manifest in the form of violent and criminal actions.
Teens that are exposed to academic stress without proper counseling usually find themselves trying out drugs. With the easy availability of drugs in educational institutes of Pakistan, the juveniles in no time end up in the vicious drug-crime cycle. Juvenile delinquents or juvenile offenders commit crimes ranging from status offenses such as truancy, violating a curfew or underage drinking and smoking to more serious offenses categorized as property crimes, violent crimes, sexual offenses, and cybercrimes.
Impacts on delinquent’s future and family
- Effects on the academic welfare: During trial and if after conviction the juvenile is put into therapeutic center he/she won’t be able to continue regular academic activities.
- Chances of getting a job: The chances of getting a financially stable future are reduced due to two reasons. Firstly due to academic loss the juvenile fails to qualify for most of the jobs. Secondly the addition of criminal record in the delinquent’s profile makes it even more difficult to get a job.
- May get influenced by more severe delinquents: In the countries like Pakistan where due to lack of resources there are no separate juvenile therapeutic or rehabilitation center, if the juvenile delinquent is put into a jail they might get emotionally and physically abused. After completing the probation rather being corrected the juvenile might come out influenced by more severe criminals.
- Traumas for the families: Having a juvenile delinquent in the family can be emotional and financial trauma for the family and can lead to feelings of instability and insecurity among other family members. Families must meet the needs of young people in need and increase legal costs. Families also have an ethical obligation to victims of criminals. Families are required to attend counseling sessions for offenders. This is costly and disruptive.
- Unstable and unsafe community: Increase in juvenile crimes destabilizes the society to its core and if these crimes start being glamorized on social media and through rap songs as there is strong presence of teens in both industries, it can get uncontrollable.
- Severe form of depression and anxiety: As a juvenile is not psychologically well equipped to face the social and family pressure after the crime is publicized. Even after completion of probation the social rejection might force the juvenile into depression and suicidal thoughts.
How we deal with juveniles who run contrary to the law defines how we see ourselves as a nation.
Articles used during the research: