EDITORIAL: The law forbids capital punishment for juvenile offenders, but to seek compliance with it is an uphill struggle as amply illustrated by the case of Anwar Ali who spent 28 years behind bars. According to details, he was arrested in March of 1993 for murder and awarded death sentence by a sessions court in 1998. In 2001, his appeal against the trial court’s verdict was rejected by the Multan bench of Lahore High Court (LHC) and later by Supreme Court of Pakistan. In December of the same year, the interior ministry notified the Presidential Ordinance – since replaced by the Juvenile System Act (JSA), 2018 — for grant of commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment for prisoners who were juvenile – under 18 years of age — at the time of the commission of crime. From thereon started Anwar Ali’s marathon struggle to prove his juvenility at the time of the offence. He knocked at all doors: the sessions court, the LHC, then again the sessions court, and yet again the LHC, albeit without success. Finally, the apex court decided to take up the matter on the basis of available record of his age, handing him relief after 12 long years. A three-member SC bench in its March 21 decision declared that he was juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence and hence entitled to benefit from the 2001 Presidential Ordinance regarding special remission in death sentence.
He was able to wage such a long and hard struggle for justice, apparently, because his family had the resources to pay for the expensive legal processes. Help also came from an advocacy group. But most others have no such luck. An estimated 10 percent of the death row prisoners are said to be juvenile. A vast majority of them belong to poor families unable to bear expenses of a legal battle. Sadly, several have been executed during the recent years for failure to prove juvenility at the time of crime commission. Determining the age of an offender should not be so difficult for courts. Nadra records of all CNIC holders include registration of children in what is called the B-form. Child Registration Certificates acquired from Nadra should be used for determining age of young offenders.
Capital punishment, an anathema to civilized sensibilities, has been completely abolished by as many as 108 countries for being inhuman and degrading. It is even crueler to execute children since they do not know the consequences of their actions. Which is why they are not allowed to drive cars and other motorized vehicles, serve in military, or exercise the right to vote. By the same token, they do not deserve to be awarded the ultimate punishment for making dangerous decisions. Steps ought to be taken to rehabilitate and reintegrate under-age offenders into society. Our juvenile justice system must give them a second chance.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021