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Number of juveniles sentenced to life in Punjab prisons soars

Rights group says legal system is still violating its own rules
Number of juveniles sentenced to life in Punjab prisons soars

Little is known about the situation of girls in Pakistan's prisons, according to a local rights group

Published: May 28, 2013 09:35 AM GMT
Updated: May 27, 2013 11:03 PM GMT

The number of boys sentenced to life imprisonment in Pakistan’s most populous state, Punjab, soared 45 percent last year, according to a new report which gives a snapshot of the country’s penal system.

In 2012, twenty-nine male children were sentenced to up to 25 years in prison and sent to borstals, mostly for offences related to stealing, physical assault and murder, AGHS Child Rights Unit, a human rights and legal aid organization, said in its annual report on Monday.

According to Pakistani law, boys under the age of 18 must be held in separate quarters of adult prisons before appearing in court within 24 hours. Once sentenced, they are then sent to borstals until they turn 18.

But these rules are rarely followed in practice, said Hina Jilani, chairman of AGHS.

“Most of the interviewees complained that they were not presented in juvenile courts within 24 hours and were also tortured upon arrest,” she said. “At least 10 were jailed for a year before they were sentenced.”

More than 700 boys below the age of 18 are typically found in Punjab’s 27 jails at any one time, the report added. In the Punjab's two borstals for underage offenders, 55 of the young inmates were ordered to do labor including cleaning toilets, it said, as opposed to adults who are often sentenced to hard labor.

In the most severe case, a 17-year-old was found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to 50 years of penal labor, said Jilani.

Rights groups say they are unable to gain an accurate picture of the situation of girls in Pakistan’s prisons because they are almost never separated from women offenders.

“Borstal rules scarcely apply to them. They grow up in universities of crime,” said Sajjad Cheema, regional manager at the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.

Conditions in Pakistan’s prisons are dire, he added.

“All institutions suffer from poor hygiene, especially the toilets. The children are tortured in the name of discipline. Many have to sleep on brick floors,” he said.

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