See More on Facebook

Culture and society

Why Pakistan must stop hanging juvenile offenders

Despite the prohibition, cases of juvenile offenders’ executions are far from the exception.


Written by

Updated: July 11, 2019

The following is an excerpt from Justice Project Pakistan’s (JPP) book, The Death Penalty in Pakistan: A Critical Review, to be launched on July 11, 2019 in Islamabad. A culmination of 10 years of JPP’s work, the book documents the many ways in which Pakistan’s application of the death penalty intersects with legal, social and political realities.

It focuses on how capital punishment impacts some of the most vulnerable populations: juveniles, the mentally ill, persons with physical disabilities, low-wage migrant workers imprisoned in foreign jails and the working class.

Relying on public records for multiple JPP clients sentenced to death, nearly a decade of experience in the field, as well as extensive experience with legislation and advocacy, this book tracks the many junctures at which violations occur, from arrest to sentencing to execution.

Aftab Bahadur was arrested at the age of 15 for the murder of a woman and her two children. Aftab protested his innocence to the very end. The only eyewitness who testified against Aftab recanted his statement by claiming that he had been coerced by the police to provide his damning testimony. In fact, he admitted, that Aftab had not even been present at the scene of the crime. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, however, refused to consider the exculpatory evidence stating that a fresh appeal was untimely. Aftab Bahadur therefore, marched to the gallows at the age of 38 after having spent over 22 years on Pakistan’s death row.

He was executed on 10 June 2015.

Like 160 countries in the world, Pakistan has enacted legislation prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders — persons who commit crimes before turning 18 years old. The Government of Pakistan is, additionally, a party to both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which categorically prohibits capital punishment for juvenile offenders. However, despite the explicit bar, cases of juvenile offenders such as Aftab Bahadur are far from the exception.

As a result of a criminal justice system that violates international human rights standards at each stage of the judicial system, arrest, investigation, trial, sentencing, and punishment, the death penalty is disproportionately applied to the most vulnerable of Pakistan’s population — the mentally ill, physically disabled, and juvenile offenders. Since the moratorium was lifted, at least six juvenile offenders have been executed despite credible evidence in support of their juvenility.

Pakistan’s failure to protect juvenile offenders from the death penalty since the resumption of executions drew sharp criticism from international actors. In June 2015, four United Nations experts, whilst urging the Government of Pakistan to halt the execution of juvenile offenders, condemned the existence of ‘several hundred’ juvenile offenders on death row as a violation of its international law obligations. Similarly, in June 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the Government of Pakistan to stay the executions of all juvenile offenders and reopen all cases where there was even the slightest indication of the minority of the accused at the time of the commission of the alleged offence.

Pakistan enacted the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) in 2000 in order to bring its criminal justice system in conformity with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2018, the JJSO was repealed and replaced by Juvenile Justice System Act (JJSA). The law prohibits executions of juveniles and makes provisions regarding separate courts, trials, and detention centres from judges and lawyers. However, in the 18 years that had passed since the JJSO came into force, it remained virtually ignored in practice. Firstly, the law was enacted without retrospective force – thereby denying its protection to juvenile offenders sentenced to death prior to its enactment in 2000. A Presidential Notification granted a ‘special remission’ for all juvenile offenders whose death sentences were confirmed prior to the JJSO on the basis of an inquiry into their juvenility. However, such inquiries were seldom conducted and when they were the investigation was replete with incompetence, inefficiency, and violations of human rights standards.

Pakistan has also consistently failed to set up juvenile courts, borstal institutions and provisions for effective legal aid for juveniles as provided under, first the JJSO and now JJSA. In a context marred with low birth registration and a lack of sensitisation of law enforcement and judiciary to juvenile delinquency, a significant number of juvenile offenders fall outside the few institutional safeguards actually implemented in practice. As a result, the juvenile justice system is rarely applied to those it is designed to protect, resulting in a significant number of death sentences being meted out to juvenile offenders. Once sentenced these juvenile offenders are denied effective recourse to appeals and post-conviction reliefs, even in the face of exonerating evidence. All of these aforementioned problems constitute violations of international law and taken together reveals a broken criminal justice system that fails to protect juvenile offenders from the most severe and irreversible form of punishment – the death penalty.

The irreversible nature of the violations mandates that Pakistan reinstate a moratorium of its application on the death penalty and launch an independent investigation into all death row cases particularly those marked by allegations of juvenility. Additionally, in order to prevent future executions of juvenile offenders and to ensure that they are extended the requisite protections under international human rights standards requires a comprehensive reform of its juvenile justice system starting from the determination of age at the time of arrest to the grant of mercy prior to execution.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Culture and society

What South Asian sci-fi can tell us about our world

Dismissing sci-fi and fantasy as low-brow or trashy isn’t just a desi stance, although it might be more pronounced. My first encounter with a work of desi science fiction was very much by accident. During my undergraduate studies at the English department at Karachi University, while idly browsing through a professor’s personal collection on her desk, I came across Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, a English-language short story set in a feminist utopian world written by a Bengali Muslim woman in 20th century colonial India. Up until then, my study of literature had been mostly white, mostly male authors, an unsurprising fact when we take into account the (Western) literary canon’s inherent whiteness and maleness, as well as the institutional history of English departments as tools of the colonial project — teaching works


By Dawn
July 16, 2019

Culture and society

Chinese economy grows at slowest rate in decades

Growth slumps to 27-year low in China, with talk of more aggressive stimulus measures. China’s economy grew 6.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year, its slowest rate in 27 years, as the country’s trade war with the United States exacted its toll. Analysts said they expect economic growth to continue to weaken for the rest of this year, which would likely prompt more aggressive stimulus measures from Beijing. Data released on Monday (July 15) by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that gross domestic product growth in the second quarter had slowed from 6.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year, coming in largely within expectations. The economy grew by 6.3 per cent for the first half of the year, according to the NBS. The figure is still within the 6 to 6.5 per cent target that Beijing has set for full year GDP growth. Last year, Chin


By The Straits Times
July 16, 2019

Culture and society

Beer manufacturers told not to confuse Muslims

Brewers told not to make non-alcoholic beer. Beer manufacturers in the country have been told not to confuse consumers especially Muslims by producing alcohol-free drink. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof (pic) stressed that alcohol-free beer is only confusing Muslims and it is not a wise move. “Using the name alcohol-free beer is confusing as the process of producing the drink including distillation is carried out in the system used to produce alcohol products. “We know the alcohol-free drink is produced by a beer manufacturer but it would cause confusion as some Muslims thought they could consume the drink,” he said. Mujahid, who is also Parit Buntar MP, was commenting on a viral promotion of zero-alcohol beer by a beer manufacturer at a convenient store. In this regard, Mujahid advised Muslims not to consume any pr


By The Star
July 15, 2019

Culture and society

Indonesian pre-teen writes to Trump

Why do you always export your waste to my country. A surge of waste imports into cities in East Java has prompted a teenager to write to United States President Donald Trump to protest about the incoming trash. Aeshnina Azzahra, a 12-year-old from Gresik, East Java, wrote that the river in her neighborhood was “very dirty and smelly” as many factories dispose of their waste carelessly on land and water. She said she had to write to Trump because the US was among the largest exporters of waste to Indonesia. “Why do you always export your waste to my country? Why don’t you take care of your own waste,” she wrote in her letter. Aeshnina also participated in a protest held by environmentalists in front of the United States Consulate General in Surabaya, East Java, on Friday. She said America’s waste had also polluted Indonesia’s oceans and consumed by


By The Jakarta Post
July 15, 2019

Culture and society

Hong Kong protests: Chaos speads to Sha Tin mall after rally ends

Protests continue, this time against Chinese vendors. Violent clashes between law enforcers and some protesters erupted yet again on Sunday (July 14) following a largely peaceful march hours earlier in the New Territories town of Sha Tin. About three hours after the rally ended at 5pm, police in riot gear began clearing the streets, setting off a game of cat and mouse with them and protesters trying to corner one another. Tensions peaked at about 9.30pm when officers armed with shields and batons entered New Town Plaza mall in Sha Tin and tried to disperse the crowd that was hiding there, resulting in chaos. Police officers were seen chasing after a protester, hitting him with batons and ripping his clothes off as they tried to pin him down before he managed to flee to safety with help from fellow protesters, who were trying to dodge pepper spray. Elsewhere in the mall, protesters surround


By The Straits Times
July 15, 2019

Culture and society

Why is Korea so dependent on Japanese materials?

Korea’s neglect in basic technologies leaves major industries vulnerable. The aggravating trade dispute with Japan reveals some hard truths about South Korea’s lack of basic technologies despite being dubbed as a tech powerhouse, not to mention the dire need to diversify its supply channels to reduce its heavy dependence on the neighboring nation. On July 1, the Japanese government tightened the export process to Korea of three classes of hi-tech materials crucial to the production of chips and display panels and removing it from the white list. The materials include fluorinated polyimide, photoresist and hydrogen fluoride, which are dominated by Japanese companies globally. Fluorinated polyimide is used to make flexible organic light-emitting diode displays. Photoresist is a thin layer applied to transfer a circuit pattern to a semiconductor substrate. Hydrogen fluoride, or etching gas, is needed i


By The Korea Herald
July 12, 2019