Juvenile prisons in Bangladesh are effectively torture cells for teenage offenders. Known as juvenile development centres (JDC), the facilities of these institutions are chronically insufficient: overcrowded and understaffed, with poor quality food, a severe lack of medical facilities, poor administration and inadequate investment in basic infrastructure. Although the rights of young people in Bangladesh are putatively guaranteed under a number of national and international legal instruments, those incarcerated in JDCs are frequently subject to inhumane treatment, including torture and brutality that have resulted in murders and suicides.
The rights of minors are protected under Article 28(4) of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which obliges the State to make special provisions in favour of women, children and other ‘backward’ social groups. Alongside this Constitutional safeguard, specific statutes provide for rights such as the mandatory separation of children from adults in detention, and for special treatment of juvenile prisoners: these include the Children Act 2013 (which supersedes the Children Act 1974), the Bengal Jail Code, and the Prisons Act 1894. The Children Act is the chief substantive body of law governing juvenile offenders and their treatment and it was drafted with consideration to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children (UNCRC). The Act deals with custody, protection, treatment, trial and punishment of children.
Under Section 4 of the Children Act, a child is defined as anyone below the age of 18. However, the protection of young children against criminal liability is secured by The Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2004, which exempts those up to the age of nine from court proceedings and from being charged with offences committed when they were under this age. In terms of sentencing, section 34 (1) of the Children Act states that a child who is convicted of an offence ordinarily punishable with death or life imprisonment (for an adult offender) shall be detained in a JDC for between 3 and 10 years. Lesser offences carry a punishment of up to 3 years of detention in a JDC.
Unfortunately, even a decade after the Act came into force, the numbers of established JDCs are chronically inadequate. At present, there are only three JDCs throughout Bangladesh: two for boys in Tongi and Jessore, with accommodation capacities of 200 and 150 respectively, and one with facilities for up to 150 girls in Konabari, Gazipur. As per Section 63(4) of the Act, these JDCs are in charge of upholding the best interests of children through rehabilitation and training, as well as counselling and mental enrichment. This is mandated under the Act as well as the National Children Policy, in accordance with the provisions of the UNCRC. However, in reality, the children are habitually subject to inhumane treatment and cruelty.
Although Section 63 directs the Government to frame rules for the minimum standard of care for the residing children in JDCs, no such rules or guidelines have been made until now. A lack of coordination and accountability among the administrative authorities of these institutions and the relevant ministries continues to impede the improvement of existing JDCs. In order to protect young people, it is critical that concerned Bangladesh authorities implement policies and practices in line with international instruments such as the Mandela Rules, Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency 1990, and The United Nations Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System 1997. Such instruments provide clear guidelines for the protection and well-being of juvenile detainees. As a state party to these guidelines, Bangladesh has an obligation to implement reforms that align with global standards for the minimum treatment of vulnerable children and young people. Such reforms are crucial to protecting the dignity and human rights of children subject to state incarceration.
Want to learn more?
- Read: The Inadequacy of India’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme in Responding to Juvenile Delinquency
- Read: Condoning Child Marriage in Bangladesh: A Step Backwards
- Read: Gender Inequality and Gender Discrimination Towards Girls Under the Justice System in Bangladesh
- Read: How the Prison System is Failing Women and Why it is a Human Rights Issue
- Read: Minimum Sentences for Children Under Hong Kong’s National Security Law