For some, the ‘punishment’ was to do a good deed every day, for others it was to plant trees. Some were told to stay away from drugs, while some others were ordered to read books. Children and young teens, entangled in different lawsuits, are reverting back to normal life complying with such conditions of the court.
One of those adolescents lives in Kaiyargaon village on the Bangladesh border in Sunamganj Sadar upazila. The village is about 16 kilometres away from Sunamganj district town. The boy and his family talked about his experience when this correspondent met them in August in Kayargaon village.
The young teen said that he tries to do one good deed a day under the court’s directive, read books and obey his parents. He notes down his good deeds in the diary as well.
The boy’s family lives in a tin-roofed house. His father is a farmer and his elder brother runs a grocery store. When the reporter entered his room, he brought out diary given by the court. He had jotted down his good deeds on 32 pages of the diary.
So, what were the good deeds? The adolescent has written, “A boy living next door hurt himself badly in the chest, falling from a tree. I took him to the doctor. This made his parents very happy.”
There are more notes about such good deeds inked in the diary. The boy’s father was saying, “If the judge hadn’t shown mercy, he (his son) would have had to serve a year in jail (rehabilitation centre). We are pleased at him being put under probation at home amidst his family.”
The teen was caught up in a case of village clashes over the issue of piling up sand on a riverbank. In October last year, the court gave him the chance to stay under probation at home, on condition of good deeds. His probation period is about to end next month. He will take the SSC examination this year from Narayantala Mission High School.
Shah Alam, a teacher at Narayantala Mission High School told Prothom Alo, the boy is of good conduct. His studies got hampered because of this case.
Md Zakir Hossain, judge of the Sunamganj Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal had given the boy a chance of rehabilitation while staying at home through an exceptional verdict. Starting from 14 October 2020, he has given such opportunities to a total of 268 children and adolescents under 196 cases till now.
The latest of the judgments came on 20 July, where 65 children and adolescents, caught up in 52 cases, were sent home with national flags, diaries, books and flowers instead of sending them to penitentiary. However, they were let go on condition of doing good deeds.
These types of judgment, passed under ‘The Probation of Offenders Ordinance 1960’ get recognised as ‘exceptional sentence’.
Notably according to this law, the court can give an accused the opportunity of correction, putting him on probation at home on conditions subjected to there being no evidence of previous conviction and being found guilty in an offense, punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years.
In that case, offender’s age, character, physical and mental condition, nature of the offence or the issue of his involvement in causing the crime has to be taken in consideration.
62 children freed
As per information of the court’s administrative wing, till now a total 62 children were acquitted of from 51 cases for complying with court’s conditions. Others are undergoing probation.
For failing to fulfill court’s conditions seven teens have been sent to Gazipur’s juvenile detention centre, under three different cases. However, they too are trying to fulfill the conditions upon returning home after serving their time in the detention centre.
The conditions, mentioned by court in the verdict of Sunamganj Women and Children Repression Prevention Court Judge, also include taking care of parents, reciting scriptures, quitting bad company, remaining sober from drugs, learning accurate history of the Liberation War and reading related books, planting and tending trees and refrain from reengaging in crime.
Sunamganj district probation officer Shah Md Shafiur Rahman is responsible for supervising the issue of children fulfilling court’s condition properly. He said that he either visits in person, talks to the neighbours or in some cases inquires over the phone.
“We are supervising. Besides, the parents also have the responsibility to support or stand by the children in fulfilling these conditions. And, many of the parents are doing that,” he added.
‘Good’ deeds go in the diary
Analysing case information, it was found that the children were dragged in the case along with adults on charges of minor crimes including clashes and theft. Many are students while some are involved in different work. There were various hassles including education being hampered, as well as money and time spent in travelling to the court. Their normal life was being disrupted.
This reporter spoke to 28 children and adolescents under probation in four upazilas of Sunamganj, as well as their guardians and neighbours, either in person or over the phone. In most cases, they were found complying with the court's conditions.
Md Ariful (pseudonym), an adolescent from a village under Shantiganj upazila of Sunamganj was permitted to stay on probation at home on court terms in a case. While going through his diary, it was found that he wrote on 2 December last year, “After being accused in the case, all my work along with my studies was being disrupted.”
“I am thankful and grateful to have the opportunity of correcting myself. I will comply with all the conditions given by the court”, he wrote further.
He also wrote in the diary that he sprinkled water on the road to protect pedestrians from dust on last 12 December. Plus, he fetched water from the tube well, as his parents had asked.
Another teenager from Kaiyargaon village wrote in his diary on 3 March this year, “I have planted trees next to my garden. I always plant trees to protect the environment, for our development.”
Four teenagers were charged in a case of clash over establishing dominance in a village under Dirai upazila. Three of them sat for and passed HSC examination this year, while undergoing probation. Visiting the villages on last 15 August, two of them were talked to along with their family members. These two said they are complying with the conditions of probation and writing diaries.
One of their mothers told Prothom Alo, "I always advise my son to behaving well. I speak to him looking him in the eye. I won’t let him get involved in any more trouble.”
Faisal Chowdhury, a resident of the village, was asked whether the juveniles caught up in different lawsuits are actually committing good deeds or reengaging in offences. Responding to Prothom Alo he said, “Not everyone was actually involved in fights. They are often named just to harass them.”
In Rajnao village of Dirai upazila, four children of a family were accused in another case of clashes. Two of them are school students.
A member of the family told Prothom Alo, there was a quarrel between two families over trivial issues. Later their opponents filed a case against 12 of them. The list of accused contained the names of one of his sons and three nephews too.
About two years ago, police arrested three children from a neighborhood in Sunamganj town under a theft case. Later they stayed in Gazipur's juvenile detention centre for 18 days. Following a year of probation, the children are now free.
The father of one of them is an auto rickshaw driver. Because of the family's poor financial conditions, the boy now works in a shop. He told this correspondent, that he now he no longer keeps bad company or disobeys his parents.
Another said, he is happy with the court giving them a chance to correct themselves. He will never commit a crime again.
'It's an example'
Sunamganj Women and Children Repression Prevention Court's public prosecutor (PP) Hasan Mahbub and Shachetan Nagorik Committee (Sanak) president in the district Ainul Islam were asked about the issue of children and adolescents being given the opportunity of correcting themselves from home instead of sending them to correctional facilities.
Hasan Mahbub said that the court gave them the chance to stay at home so that the children are not scarred with punishment right at the beginning of their lives.
Ainul Islam on the other hand said, "The judge gave them a chance to rectify their mistakes through legal procedure for their better future. We appreciate this initiative. And, this judgment has set an example."