A backlog of almost 1,000 criminal cases filed against juveniles in Dhaka is being blamed on the non-appearance of witnesses and the “negligence” of police officers and lawyers.
Since the Dhaka Juvenile Court was established by the government in 2015, it has received a total of 972 cases including 156 which were filed in other courts in the capital between 2000 and 2014.
Although the law states that cases accusing children of crimes must be resolved within 420 days of their filing, the latest data shows 963 of the cases at Dhaka Juvenile Court are still pending.
“The number of pending cases is increasing as the cases are not being attended to in time due to negligence of related officials, including lawyers and law enforcers,” said a court source on condition of anonymity.
Rights activists blamed negligence of the authorities concerned for poor implementation of the Children’s Act 2013. They said the act – which repealed the Children’s Act 1974 – remains “almost ineffective” as the government is yet to take the necessary steps to implement it.
Shahabuddin Ahmed Bhuiyan, public prosecutor of the juvenile court, denied the claims of negligence.
“We are trying to dispose of the cases but the process has been delayed due to non-appearance of witnesses,” he said.
One adult suffering at the hands of the drawn out juvenile legal system in Dhaka is Mobarak Ali Panna. He was arrested by Detective Branch (DB) of police from the Choudhurypara area of Malibagh when aged 18 in August 2002, on charges of possessing a firearm.
Four months later, Khilgaon police submitted a charge sheet accusing Mobarak under the Arms Act.
Although the trial started many days ago, it is yet to be completed as only two prosecution witnesses testified before the court in the case, said lawyer Humayun Kabir Khandaker.
“My client is suffering due to the slow pace of the trial,” the lawyer said.
Mobarak, who now works at a private company, maintains that he was framed in the case.
“My family and I experienced mental pressure since the case was filed,” he said.
“I served in jail for five months. I do not know what will happen in the judgment but whatever the verdict is I want it to be settled. We cannot bear it anymore.”
Women’s rights activist advocate Salma Ali said the failure to complete trials in time was adding to the stigma already felt by those juveniles who were accused of crimes but who would later be proven innocent.
“Society normally treats the accused as an offender,” she said. “If the trial takes place soon, the accused can get back to normal life after being acquitted. If the accused is found guilty, then it is a different matter.”
Salma Ali said the cases filed against juvenile offenders normally get stuck in the system due to lack of coordination among police, lawyers and family members of both parties.
In another case filed in September 2015, three grade VIII students stand accused of stalking a girl pupil at Jurain Ashraf Master Adarsha High School in Dhaka.
Md Rifat, Md Tarique, and Sajjad Hossain Raju went on trial at the Dhaka Juvenile Court in November 2016 but only two witnesses have so far testified before the court and the proceedings are yet to be completed.
On August 13, 2015, a case was filed with Tejgaon industrial area police station accusing 13-year-old Md Rasel of violating a three-year-old girl while they were watching television at her house.
Although Rasel gave a confessional statement in the case, the trial is yet to finish.
“We are waiting for justice,” said the girl’s mother. “I do not understand why he did this to my daughter. He was like my son.”
Salma Ali said the tendency of young people committing crimes has increased in recent times.
“Society is changing and (so) parents have to be more vigilant of their children’s activities and whereabouts,” she said.
The rights activist also called for a more sensitive handling of juvenile cases.
“The juvenile court should conduct the trial process in different ways, considering that the juveniles are not like grown adults,” she said.