Lahore/Islamabad: When 10-year-old Tayyaba, a maid in Islamabad, became the victim of torture and abuse at the hands of her employers, she was under severe trauma to explain her story. Although the bruises and burns on her body and her medical report narrated her tale, she needed more support to raise her voice against the abusers.
The Supreme Court took suo-motu notice of her case, and for the first time the judiciary recognised the lack of a separate bench to handle cases of violence against children.
Now, after many unfortunate incidents and years of struggle by child rights’ activists, Pakistan has launched its first court in Lahore to deal with all cases related to children.
Chief Justice Lahore High Court (LHC) Syed Mansoor Ali Shah inaugurated the Child Court at Judicial Complex in Lahore on December 19, in the presence of senior judge Justice Muhammad Yawar Ali, Justice Farrukh Irfan Khan, Justice Aalia Neelum, District and Sessions Judge Abid Qureshi and representatives of the Lahore Bar Association.
The first juvenile court is expected to deal with crimes perpetrated by child offenders. Initially, 80 cases involving children had been transferred to the new court.
“The purpose of establishing the special court is to protect the innocence of children from negative impacts of litigation before traditional courts” LHC Chief Justice (CJ) Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said on inaugurating the first-of-its-kind court in Pakistan. “We cannot let children ruin their lives in courts.”
Barrister Sarah Belal told Gulf News: “The launch of first Child Court is a proud moment for the lawyers’ community. This separate court for children is in line with both Islamic laws and Pakistan’s laws.”
A separate waiting area, a vibrant room with toys has also been set up for counselling of under-trial children by students of Punjab University’s psychology department.
“This is a major accomplishment for the children of Pakistan,” said Valerie Khan, a Pakistani women-and-child-rights’ activist, talking to Gulf News. “This is a huge achievement for child rights’ activists who struggled hard to make this dream a reality.”
Valerie is among those spearheading the movement for implementing the juvenile justice system in Pakistan. “The police station, the court room, criminal investigations are traumatic experiences for little kids,” she says. “Children who have experienced trauma in fact need privacy, confidential support and psychotherapy” — which is what Pakistan is aiming to attain with the new child court.
“The main purpose of the juvenile justice system is to avoid secondary victimisation of the child and to offer rehabilitation rather than punishment for juvenile criminal behaviour” Valerie explained.
The court has been charged with a new mandate with respect to the care and protection of children, in line with international standards.
Pakistan is a signatory of several international commitments on child rights and has passed landmark laws such as the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000, Prohibition of the Corporal Punishment Act 2013 and Child Protection Act 2017, which guarantees certain rights for children in conflict with the law.
After successful implementation and necessary assessment, this pilot project would be extended to other districts and regions as well.
The CJ also said that soon a special court for senior citizens would also be established in Lahore after the launch of separate courts for women and children.