The judiciary in Bangladesh has a provision for a Children's Court - a separate child-friendly courtroom for the trial of children in conflict with the law.
The rules and laws related to the Children's Court, including the dress code for the judges and lawyers are not followed accordingly.
Sometimes children kept at correctional centres are handcuffed and ferried to court in prison vans or alongside adult criminals, which goes against the law.
According to the Children Act 2013, the judges and lawyers at the court ‘must not wear clothes that ignite fear in children’. However, this provision is not being followed. Despite the restriction, court officials are wearing black coats and gowns when taking part in hearings.
According to the law, children cannot be called suspects or convicts but should be called children in conflict with the law. This is not followed either.
All these issues cause psychological distress for the children.
An investigation shows that the judges in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals are running the trial proceedings for the Children's Court in the same courtrooms.
The focus and mentality required by the authorities to run a juvenile court do not exist, as the trial proceedings are conducted by the same judges and lawyers and in the same courtroom.
It is important to have a separate child-friendly courtroom with gentle and sensitive court officials to conduct trials under the Children Act, according to senior legal officers, public prosecutors in the juvenile court and senior criminal lawyers.
NO SEPARATE COURTROOMS
An official at Dhaka’s Children's Court No. 3, who asked not to be named, said the court was not run according to the rules.
Afroza Farhana Ahmed Orange, a public prosecutor of the Children's Court, said: “Children adjudicated under child law are not called the ‘accused’. No matter how big their crimes are, their photos and names cannot be published in the newspaper.”
“We try to create a child-friendly environment as far as possible in judicial reality during trials in Women and Child Repression Prevention Act cases. But it is not entirely possible as there are no separate [juvenile] courtrooms.”
Fahmida Akhter, a lawyer of Dhaka's One-Stop Crisis Centre, said: “The same judge is hearing cases over women and child repression… and trafficking. This is not scientifically sound.”
“...children can hear about rape, sexual assault cases in these trials. It is quite natural that it affects their personality and mentality.”
Lawyer and rights activist Jibanananda Chanda Jayanta said there were no initiatives to improve the environment of juvenile trials.
“The caseload for the Women and Child Repression Prevention Tribunal is already stacked, yet these courts are also being used for trials of juveniles.”
“Trying adults and children in the same courtroom is unacceptable.”
Md Rezaul Karim, a state lawyer for a juvenile court, admitted that problems currently exist.
“In practice, it is difficult to conduct trials for children. A separate courtroom will best serve the cause, but the initiative has to be taken on a large scale. I can’t tell how it’s possible to remedy the crisis under the present circumstances.”
Public Prosecutor Afroza stressed the importance of curtailing the negative tendencies towards children who come in conflict with the law.
“I let the children sit next to state lawyers with great affection and discuss their issues, listen to them and their parents attentively.”
She also pointed out the different traits of children who arrive in juvenile court for murder, robbery, drugs or cases against gangs of teenagers.
“Among those who are on trial, some grow their fingernails long, have tattoos, and wear faded or torn jeans. Correctional centres must advise these children to avoid such attire and take steps accordingly.”
Mashiur Rahman, the coordinator of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust’s Dhaka unit, said: “Having a separate courtroom for trials is important and so is improving the correction centres.”
“Those places are out of control. No one follows the law. Instead of improving the behaviour of the children who go there, it makes things worse.”
THE CHILDREN ACT 2013
To implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) treaty, Bangladesh overhauled the Children Act of 1974 and introduced the Children Act of 2013. The law was amended again in 2018.
According to the law, any child involved in a crime with an adult may not be charged with the same police investigation report as the adult. They must have a separate investigation report prepared against them.
As children, their involvement in the crime should be considered separately, the law says. The Children's Court was established with all the power and jurisdiction of a Sessions Court. The necessary initiatives and preparations to run trials under the Children Act, however, have never been fulfilled.
Notwithstanding provisions in other laws, the lawyers, police members or any other court officials shall not wear their professional or official uniform in the courtroom during the trial of a child in a Children's Court, section 19 (4) of the Children Act 2013 says.
The law also says that during the hearing of any case, if the Children's Court thinks that it is necessary for the best interest of the child, it may direct any of the persons except the concerned child to leave the courtroom and the person so directed shall be bound to leave the courtroom accordingly.
The act bans the publishing of any photo, description, report or news of a child who is connected to a case or has testified as a witness before a Children's Court in any print or electronic media or on the internet which may directly or indirectly lead to the identification of such a child.
The Children's Court, however, may allow the disclosure or publication of photos, reports, and news about the concerned child if it appears harmless to the child.
HOW TRIALS OF CHILDREN’S CASES ARE MISHANDLED
On Mar 27, 2018, police arrested two residents of Dhaka's Mirpur with 20 yaba pills in front of Star Residential Hotel on Shyamoli Ring Road.
SI Anwar Hossain filed a case against them at Adabar Police Station under the Narcotics Control Act, 1990.
In the case, police identified one suspect as 20 years old and the other as 19.
Later, according to the birth certificate, and secondary examination certificate, the detainee showed as 19 years old was confirmed to be a minor under the age of 18 by the Dhaka Children's Court and Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court-1.
Judge Md Al Mamun of the same court scrutinised the documents and granted bail considering the detainee as a child.
Later, on Apr 24 of that year, SI Moniruzzaman Moni, mentioned the age of that detainee as 17 and that of the other, Zobair bin Hasan, as 20.
The case was later transferred to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-5 and Children’s Court in Dhaka for trial.
In 2021, Anwar Hossain, the plaintiff in the case, came to testify in court.
At that time, Md Hammad Emdad Hossain, the lawyer of the child, questioned the plaintiff for wearing a black coat and gown in the minor’s presence.
The judge was also wearing a black coat and gown. The court was not vacated for the Children’s Court proceedings.
Lawyer Rafiqul Islam went to the hearing of a case at Children’s Court in Dhaka on behalf of three children from Old Dhaka - Abu Awhid Safir, Samin and Tarif - last year.
As per the Children's Act, when he went to the hearing wearing a white shirt without a black coat and gown, the judge rebuked him for not following 'court decorum'.
There are 217 pending cases in Children's Court-1 in Dhaka, while 223 cases await hearings in court-5, 489 in court-6, 250 in court-7, and about 500 in court-8, according to lawyers and court officials.