Today we have a visit to the remand home, where Legal Rights Forum wants to establish a Juvenile Rehabilitation (Career Training) Center. In the cab we go, and we drive about 20 minutes outside of Karachi’s center to the home.
When we get to the home, Safi – an LRF advocate – stops at the fruit cart outside and buys several bushels of bananas for the youthful accused living there. Living in the home currently are 15 young boys. The number fluctuates, depending on the pending cases. Juveniles between the ages of 12 and 16 are referred to the home by judges. Youth who cannot post bail or those who cannot meet surety fees and thus are not released are among the residents. The head of the home is quite friendly and greets us with respect. He is happy to accept the poster Tahir brings for display in the home – the poster states in simple terms the rights that juveniles have according to law along with contact information for LRF in case they feel they’ve been mistreated.
The head of the remand home leads the way to visit the inside and talk to the kids. As we walk toward where they are, several guards jump to our defense. I’m not a gun expert, but at least two dudes cock what look like automatic rifles. From that display, I’m expecting crazy-eyed wild children or something, but just as I looked ahead, there were a couple rows of young nervous-looking kids. As soon as they saw us, they quickly stood, nodded their heads and said in unison, “Asalam-e-lekom” for a peaceful greeting. I felt awkward that these kids were obligated to jump to attention like that just because of our presence. We told them to please be comfortable and seated, which they cautiously did with a glance the head guy.
“Would you like to speak with them?” Safi asked me. I’m thinking: um, not really; I felt so strange about demanding anything from these kids. I guess in a way I’m naïve to think they looked so innocent and nervous. About half of them have these astonishingly bright blue-green eyes that make such a notable contrast with their somewhat dark skin tones and hair. Safi picks one of the older-looking ones and asks him to come to the front and talk to us a bit. Safi’s tone is serious and the kid is a bit shaky. He loosened up a bit as Safi just asked some basic questions. He’d been arrested with 3 sticks of opium. Saima translated for me as Safi asked the kid whether he had been mistreated by the police. He said no. Another younger looking kid was sitting toward the front with a look of mischief. He was 12. I was curious to hear his charge. When I heard, I was shocked: attempted murder?! Turns out his case had been reported in newspapers: he found a 5 or 6-year old neighbor child had been strangled and went to tell the child’s parents. The parents then accused him of the strangling. This kid had been staying in the home for two months as he waited for court proceedings. This is the only remand home in the country, and he has to travel hours to get to court. LRF dreams more homes can be established throughout the country. It’s on the list of goals.
For now, LRF looks forward to developing its Juvenile Rehabilitation Program in the remand home: 3- or 6-month courses on electronics’ hardware training for the children. The courses also have lectures on ethics and morality. Tahir, of LRF, has spoken to some business centers around Karachi, 3 of which have agreed to provide work to skilled hands that emerge from the program.