The distressing revelation that 19 children faced blasphemy charges in Punjab between January 1 and October 16, 2023, rings alarm bells about the treatment of minors within Pakistan’s legal framework. This startling statistic unveils an alarming reality, sparking concerns about the due process and rights afforded to children within the country’s judicial system.
Of the 19 arrested children, the fact that six remain in custody, charged with blasphemy, reflects a deeply troubling trend. Despite international standards and Pakistan’s commitment to protecting juveniles under the Juvenile Justice System Act of 2018, these children are enduring a legal quagmire. Their imprisonment underscores the persistent disregard for the vulnerability and special protections mandated for minors, raising serious apprehensions about the fairness of trials and the system’s ability to safeguard their rights.
Adding to the disconcerting scenario is the reported difficulty some children face in proving their juvenility, defying the protections enshrined in the Juvenile Justice System Act of 2018. Section 8 of this Act serves as a fundamental shield for juvenile offenders, yet its inadequate implementation denies these children their rightful defence and violates their rights. This inability to establish juvenility is a grave injustice, contradicting the legal safeguards intended to shield minors from punitive measures intended for adults.
Sarmad Ali’s plea from Legal Awareness Watch crucially underscores the urgent necessity for a robust implementation of laws aimed at safeguarding children’s rights. The current situation, where numerous children confront severe charges without fair trials or adequate legal defence, starkly contradicts Pakistan’s obligations under international conventions. Effective execution of laws like this is imperative to protect the best interests of these minors and align Pakistan’s judicial practices with global standards.
The plight of these children demands immediate attention to ensure adherence to the constitution and specialised laws designed to safeguard their rights. A comprehensive approach involving effective implementation of existing laws, rigorous oversight mechanisms, and enhanced awareness about juvenile rights among legal practitioners and law enforcement is crucial. We must urgently recalibrate our judicial approach to ensure that minors accused of blasphemy and other offenses are treated with the care, protection, and rights they are entitled to under domestic laws and international commitments.