Thursday, March 12, 2009
Child Right’s Law and Juvenile Delinquency
Since 1991, when the Law on the Rights of Children was passed, crimes among children under 18 have skyrocketed. There are reasons to believe that this increase is not a mere coincidence and that the law is at least partially responsible for the rising trend of juvenile delinquency. Why then did the Maldives pass such a law and what have been its effects on criminal activity among children?
Maldives probably passed the law under pressure from international organizations. What gives credence to this belief is that the country was not institutionally ready then or even now to implement some key provisions of the law. For example, Article 9 of the Law requires a separate juvenile justice system to deal with children who break the law (See below). Similarly Article 8 requires rehabilitative services for children who misbehave on the streets and public places. In 1991 the state had neither the physical facilities nor the human resources to implement these 2 Articles. In fact after more than 17 years, even today it doesn’t have.
It is generally perceived by both adults and children that juvenile offenders are free to commit to any crime and walk scot free. There are also reports of adults using children to commit crimes such as drug peddling, because children could escape the law easily. However, government agencies charged with the responsibility of implementing the Child Rights Law deny this, saying there are provisions in the law to deal with juvenile offenders. So what’s the truth? One could see the answer in Article 29 (b), which says crimes committed by children must be handled by the juvenile justice system described in Article 9. Of course, we all know that this juvenile justice system does not exist. Therefore crimes committed by children go unpunished.
Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs?
Should the blame go to child rights officials who proposed a law for which the country was not ready?
Should we question the Majlis whether, before passing the law, they ascertained if it was implementable and whether resources were available for it?
Why didn’t the state develop the facilities and human resources required to implement Articles 8 and 9 of the Law even after 17 years?
Some selected Articles of Law 9/91
8. [The Government] must take steps to rehabilitate children who misbehave and break rules on the street and in public places. The Government must take, within its means, appropriate corrective measures to reform and discipline those who are not improved by these steps.
9. [The Government] must establish a separate [juvenile justice] system to study, investigate, try and punish, where necessary, crimes committed by children. And in cases of crimes committed by children who have not attained the burden of responsibility (non ‘mukallafu’) priority must be given to rehabilitate the children instead of punishing them.
29. (a). In case of a legal or sharia crime committed by a person considered a child under this law, if the child is mukallafu (attained the burden of responsibility) he/she must bear the responsibility for the crime.
29. (b). In case of children who must take legal or sharia responsibility under this article, the investigation, trial and punishment must be conducted through the system mentioned in article 9.