There are about 8,000 Pakistanis who are languishing in different prisons across the world. Most Pakistanis are interned in Saudi Arabia, convicted of human trafficking, drug-smuggling, rape, and other crimes. Pakistan has a bilateral treaty with Saudi Arabia for exchanging of their citizens detained in the other country, but that treaty seems to be ineffective. Pakistan has treaties with almost 30 countries for bilateral exchange of citizens interned in various prisons of the world. The issue is that Pakistan does not have any uniform policy in practice for bringing its citizens to Pakistan. There is another inter-linked issue, and that is of foreign juveniles interned in Pakistan, and Pakistani children/teenagers incarcerated outside Pakistan.
Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz’s speech in parliament a few weeks ago spurred a new debate within the legal fraternity of Pakistan. The data presented in parliament was related to Pakistani adults interned aboard, but no reference whatsoever was made towards Pakistani children interned aboard, and foreign children, especially Afghan and Indian, incarcerated in Pakistan. No proper record or data is available for evaluating as to how many foreign children are detained across Pakistan. But as per reports, many juveniles are in jails across Pakistan. For example, during 2000, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 12 percent of juvenile prisoners were Afghan. The detention of foreign children across Pakistan is widespread since after the 9/11. Pakistan is in state of war because of which a lot of people suspected of terrorism-related activities are arrested, and some of them are children.
Pakistan shares its borders with India, China, Iran and Afghanistan. Some parts of these borders are porous, and on both sides of the border people have an almost identical culture and language. People on both sides visit each other due to lack of security at many sections of the border. Security agencies on the border regularly arrest people having incomplete or false travel documents, or for travelling without any document; some are arrested on suspicion of terrorism or illegal crossing of border.
At times children under the age of 18 are arrested on the border for wrongly or illegal crossing of border. Some jails of Pakistan contain a huge number of foreign juveniles, especially Afghan children. They are kept in prisons across Pakistan, and neither the Afghan authorities nor the concerned legal and judicial departments of Pakistan hardly ever bother to address the detention of these children in Pakistan. The Sindh government in 2010 released 106 Afghan nationals from Central Prison-1, Sukkur, and most of them were minors. They were arrested from Larkana and Sukkur regions, and sentenced for eight months. The authorities in collusion with the security agencies of Pakistan arrest a number of adults and children — especially on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border — and send them to jails across Pakistan, sentencing them under the Foreigners Act.
On the side, it is unknown how many Pakistani children are jailed in Afghanistan. Nothing is available on record. There must be adults and children from the tribal areas of Pakistan who have gone to Afghanistan to fight against the NATO forces, and many may have been arrested. The question is where they are being kept — whether in Afghanistan or somewhere else. Nothing is available on record if concern is raised. In 2008, the Islamabad High Court had a chance to address the petition stating to seek answer from the Ministry of foreign affairs and the Interior Ministry of Pakistan over the imprisonment of 150 children in Afghanistan. It was alleged in the petition that those 150 children were taken by the US forces with the help of Pakistani authorities.
The issue of foreign children interned in Pakistan and Pakistani children jailed aboard should be addressed on an urgent basis without any further delay. Government now seems to be interested in drafting a uniform policy for providing legal aid and assistance to its citizens incarcerated aboard. However, children who are kept in prisons of Pakistan shall be sent to their countries through proper channel. Those who are convicted of heinous offences shall be dealt with laws pertaining to juveniles rather than provisions dealing with ordinary laws for adults.
Reportedly, government must take reasonable steps to ensure peaceful and immediate return of all adults and juveniles who have served their sentence to their countries. Furthermore, it is being reported that government of Pakistan may amend its Foreigners Act and Passport Act. Currently, it is an offence even for children of other nationalities to cross over to Pakistan or to enter Pakistan with no travelling documents; if the amendment is made children shall be exempted from such penalisation. The mentioned acts shall be amended in lines with the United Nations Conventions on Rights of the Child, which Pakistan ratified in 1990. The detention of juveniles under the Passport Act and Foreigners Act is against the well-being of children. Under these acts juveniles have no right to counsel. It is, therefore, urged that governments of Pakistan, India and other neighbouring countries of Pakistan shall release juveniles and repatriate their sentence without any further delay.
This article was previously published in Daily Times and is being republished here with permission.
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