In 1990, Bangladesh ratified the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), demonstrating its commitment to respect children’s rights in Bangladesh. The UNCRC is the most comprehensive instrument on children’s rights and the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. It covers all aspects of a child’s life and sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to which all children around the world are entitled. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to ensure that all children exercise their rights.
In order to meet the requirements imposed on a State party by the UNCRC, Bangladesh enacted the Children’s Act 2013 by repealing the Children’s Act 1974. Pursuant to the powers conferred by section 77 of the Children’s Act 1974, the government could establish rules for, inter alia, the conditions under which establishments, industrial schools or other educational establishments must be approved or “approved hearth” must be recognized for the purposes of this Act.
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As a result, the government enacted the Children’s Rules, 1976. The rules contained controversial provisions that are not acceptable in the 21st century. It contained the caning provision as a form of punishment for breaking the rules. He used disparaging words like “inmate” to refer to children, a term that is used to refer to the prison population. Further, rule 22 of the 1976 Rules aimed to divide children into penal grade, general grade, and star grade, which ultimately resulted in the creation of a gang culture within the development centers. Young children are forced to stay with their older counterparts. Most of the children who were previously in the development centers complained about the “Boro Bhai” culture that prevails in the centers.
These provisions were ultra vires Article 37 (c) of the UNCRC which stipulates that “any child deprived of liberty must be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which is appropriate take into account the needs of people his age “.
Uncontrolled abusive behavior, sexual harassment, intimidation, poor and unsanitary living conditions, overcrowding, torture by staff and “elderly prisoners”, lack of professional support (e.g. doctor, psychologist , therapists) are some of the main concerns raised by sociologists as well as activists and reported repeatedly in the media. The murder of the three children at the Jessore Center by beating them to death in 2020 is a recent and gruesome example.
The first boys’ penitentiary in Bangladesh was established in 1978 in Gazipur. There are currently three Child Development Centers (CDCs), known as Sishu Unnyan Kendra, with one for girls and two for boys. Under Section 59 (1) of the Children’s Act 2013, the government is mandated to establish and maintain the necessary number of CDCs based on the gender breakdown for housing, reform and development children who are to be detained and those who are tested using recognized methods. The 2013 law further empowers the government to make rules or, from time to time, issue circulars, notifications or orders relating to the accommodation, correction, reform, development and maintenance of children entering and residing in these development centers.
Eight years have passed since the adoption of the 2013 Children’s Act. Unfortunately, the government has yet to formulate such a policy or develop such rules. In the absence of rules, CDCs are administered under the old Children’s Rules, 1976.
The goal of the rehabilitation of children placed in CDCs is to provide care, protection, education and professional skills, to help them assume socially constructive and productive roles in society, thereby ensuring juvenile justice. The practice does not seem to correspond to the objective. The existing legal mechanism is too short to ensure a comprehensive mechanism that respects international standards to provide juvenile justice.
The government must establish appropriate rules to ensure not only the proper maintenance and administration of these development centers, but also the basic rights of CDC children. A holistic approach can meet the objectives of juvenile justice to ensure the successful reintegration of children into society. Vocational education, on-the-job training, refresher courses and other appropriate modes of instruction should be introduced to establish and maintain the necessary professional skills of all personnel involved in the operation of CDCs.
The government should consult with social workers, child rights activists, child health specialists, child psychologists, academics and lawyers before enacting the rules. The text must reflect all aspects of juvenile justice. It must appoint administrative bodies that are familiar with children’s rights. An appropriate set of rules outlining the mechanisms of administration can make “development centers” truly equipped to serve the best interests of our children.
The author is a lawyer at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.