Children continue to be jailed in Kashmir despite juvenile law in place
Despite a juvenile justice system in Jammu and Kashmir, children continue to serve imprisonment in jails.
The J&K Juvenile Justice Act 1997 was amended in 2013 and the amended rules laid out the formation of Juvenile Justice Boards in each district of Jammu and Kashmir headed by a magistrate. The purpose of these boards is to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law.
This year with the implementation of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), the Juvenile Justice Act started functioning in J&K. The Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees were also created, but the boards are yet to review the cases of minors that are serving imprisonment.
On 16 September 2016, 16-year-old Rayees Ahmad Mir from Delina, Baramulla, was arrested by police under charges of throwing stones at government forces. Two days later, he was booked under PSA, report published by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) 'Terrorized: impact of violence on the children of J&K,' said.
"The PSA order stated that Rayees was 18-year-old, which was incorrect according to his school records. The order was challenged by Rayees' family in High Court, and the family produced documents proving he was 16 years old," the report said.
The High Court on 7 October 2016 stated that Rayees be treated as a juvenile under Juvenile Justice Act, as prima facie evidence suggested that he was a minor and he should be transferred to a juvenile home.
However, the report states, "Rayees spent his entire detention period 360 kilometers away from his hometown in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu before he was released in January 2017."
Rayees was released three weeks after the High Court quashed his PSA on 6 December 2016. Before being released, Rayees was taken to Joint Interrogation Centre Jammu where he was detained for some days before he was sent to Baramulla police station where he was kept for a few weeks more before being released.
In one more case, the report states, on 28 August 2016, 14-year-old Tariq Ahmad Tantray was arrested by police from his home at Frisal in Kulgam district. Tariq spent 20 days in illegal detention at a police station in Bijbehara before he was booked under PSA, despite being a minor.
His age was wrongly written as 21 by District Magistrate Anantnag. Tariq was shifted to Kathua jail in Jammu, some 250 kilometers away from his home district of Kulgam.
In another case of detention, 17-year-old Zubair Ahmad Shah was arrested from his home at Kralgund, Handwara on 5 September 2016 and detained at police station Kralgund.
Zubair spent 14 days in illegal custody before PSA charges were brought against him on 19 September 2016. In the PSA dossier prepared by police, Zubair's age was wrongly stated as 22.
Lawyers at Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the JKCCS report states, "maintain that detention of the children under the PSA is common and has been going on since the 1990s."
"Advocate Shafkat Hussain, who is a senior lawyer at High Court and has represented thousands of PSA detainees in Court since the early nineties believes that the detention of minor children has a severe impact on their psychological health and there are many cases wherein minor children have been repeatedly arrested and are in police records considered as habitual offenders."
In the year 2016 alone, Shafkat Hussain was representing cases of 200 youth booked under PSA charges.
There is no exact number as to how many children have been booked under PSA in Jammu and Kashmir, for the government hasn't maintained any such data.
"To arrive at an exact number of detentions of children under PSA in Jammu and Kashmir is not readily possible as government hasn't maintained any such data, because all arrests under PSA, whether of children, youth or old people, are carried out in a fashion that the age of the detainee, in case of minors, is almost always deliberately kept to be above 18 years on the dossier prepared by police. This ensures that in the government records, the age of the detainee is always above 18 years," the JKCCS in their report says.
Hasnain Masoodi, former High Court Judge and chairperson Selection Cum Oversight Committee that has been created under JJ Act, said, "To prevent misuse of the Public Safety Act we can do a study on the juveniles who are serving imprisonment in jails. This study will help stop further misuse of the PSA."