PESHAWAR -- Pakistan is undertaking a variety of legal reforms to provide more protection for children at risk, and inaugurating new Child Protection Courts (CPCs) is part of that effort.
Last month, Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth on October 5 inaugurated two new CPCs in Mardan and Abbottabad.
The first such court was launched in Peshawar in March. KP is the first province in Pakistan to have CPCs.
Part of the ongoing concern stems from extremists who lure impoverished, neglected children into becoming suicide bombers with promises of a glorious afterlife, as well as simply kidnapping them for that purpose.
The special courts have colourful walls, paintings, toys, books, sofas and chairs to offer a friendly environment for the children. Workers have installed swings on a spacious lawn outside the court.
"The special Child Protection Courts are set up to provide quick and easy justice for children as per the Juvenile Justice System Act 2018, KP Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 and the constitution of Pakistan," Khwaja Wajihuddin, the registrar of the PHC, told reporters on October 5.
The PHC has appointed Additional District and Sessions Judge Faryal Zia to head the CPC in Mardan and Syed Iftikhar Khan to the court in Abbottabad.
A busy court
Since March, 243 children have gone through the court in Peshawar, which has heard 137 criminal cases, he said. The court extended bail to 77 children, sentenced 10 defendants for violence against minors and acquitted 16 juvenile offenders.
Officials "regularly visit ... to monitor the condition of around 64 juvenile detainees in major prisons" throughout KP, he said.
"The judiciary is determined to establish special courts for children in all the divisional headquarters in the first phase, while in the next phase such courts will be set up in all districts," said Wajihuddin.
"Twelve Additional District and Sessions Judges and 12 civil judges have been specially trained in children's rights and children's justice by Group Development Pakistan," said Imran Takkar of Peshawar, a children's rights activist, adding that four court officials and 16 prosecutors also have received training.
The major role of CPCs is to ensure the protection of children from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, he said.
"The KP judiciary has been the best in the country with regard to implementing not only the Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 but also other child-protection laws," said Valerie Khan of Islamabad, the executive director of Group Development Pakistan, after the inauguration in Mardan.
Juvenile courts are making historic efforts to keep children away from detention and secondary victimisation, in line with national and international legal obligations, she said.
"While other stakeholders including police, bar associations and government departments are involved in the effort to protect children, the role of the judiciary in enforcing child rights remains crucial," said Khan.
Such courts will also be set up in the provincial headquarters of other provinces as per the decision of the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee, she added.
"We need an effective child-protection system that includes laws, policies, trained duty bearers, co-ordination among the stakeholders, responsive communities, budgetary allocation and child participation to prevent chid abuse," said Arshad Mahmood, an Islamabad-based children's rights activist.
"Prevention is of the utmost importance," said Mahmood.