While many of these detained children may actually be involved in the crimes they have been accused of, there are also many who are mere victims of circumstance
On March 5 this year, two pro bono lawyers Samir Afza and Roksana Reza had their first victory at Dhaka Judges Court. They were able to free 14-year-old Jewel, who had been accused of theft, from the juvenile correction centre where he had been detained and helped to reunite him with his family.
January 1, 2017 was a dark day for Jewel. As on other days, he was playing with his friends in front of the Mudga Medical College in Dhaka.
All of a sudden, police stopped their games and arrested Jewel. They said a woman had claimed that Tk120 had been stolen from her bag when she was passing by the playing children, and they had reason to suspect Jewel of the alleged theft.
Without his parents’ knowledge, Jewel was sent to the juvenile correction centre.
His mother is a housemaid and his father is unemployed and homebound due to a persistent illness. Neither had any idea why Jewel never came home that night. They thought their boy had died and were overjoyed at getting him back.
Lawyers for liberation
Samir and Roksana are on a mission to change the fates of the children who have been wrongfully detained in juvenile correction centres around Dhaka.
Dhaka Judge Court lawyer Roksana handles the case procedures and Samir, an apprentice lawyer under barrister Anik R Haq of Dhaka Judge Court, provides logistical support.
First, Samir does the research, locating the addresses and families of the children. Then he prepares the case arguments. Then Roksana takes over, submitting bail petitions, attending hearings, making the arguments in court, all the way through till the final verdicts.
Currently, the Dhaka Juvenile Court is dealing with various cases, including theft, robbery and murder, and about 647 juveniles who have been accused in these cases are now detained at the Juvenile Development Centre in Tongi. Most of the accused are aged between 12 to 16 years.
In 2015, 16-year-old Faruq was arrested from Karwan Bazar, Dhaka based as police suspected him of theft. At the time, he was an orphan who lived with his grandfather. When Faruq was taken to the juvenile correction centre, his grandfather had no idea why his grandson was missing.
During their work with juvenile crime cases, Samir and Roksana came across Faruq. After looking into his case, they contacted his grandfather.
“For the past two years, I have searched in vain for my grandson. One day, Samir came to me and informed me that Faruq was at a juvenile correction centre. I refused to believe that my grandson was a thief and asked him to help Faruq,” said Sikander Ruhul Amin, Faruq’s grandfather.
Seeing that Sikander could not afford legal help to fight for Faruq, Samir and Roksana decided to take on the case and on March 5, 2017, were able to return Faruq to his grandfather.
The road to freedom
While many of these detained children may actually be involved in the crimes they have been accused of, there are also many who are mere victims of circumstance, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As many of the children are arrested off of the streets, their guardians often have no idea why their children disappear or where they go. Most believe their sons or daughters have died or have gotten lost.
Just as the parents fail to trace their children’s whereabouts, the juveniles are also unable to let their parents know about their arrests.
This is where lawyers Roksana and Samir come in, providing the children whom they find to be innocent with free legal aid so that they can go back to their families.
“First, we do our own investigations and then, if we find that the child is innocent, we follow up with the necessary steps to move to court with the case,” said Roksana.
Till date, Roksana and Samir have taken up 26 cases and successfully managed to free many of the accused juveniles.
“We took on the initiative so that innocent juveniles could get justice, free of cost,” said Samir.
In support of Roksana and Samir’s work, Biddyananda Foundation, a volunteer organisation, has decided to help out by providing them with financial support.