At least eleven children under the age of nine are incarcerated at the Jessore Correction Centre in clear violation of the law, an investigation by a National Human Rights Commission team revealed yesterday.
According to existing laws, no child under the age of nine can be arrested, said Kazi Riazul Haque, chief of the child rights committee of NHRC.
The committee visited the centre Friday morning following the unrest at the centre on May 3 when inmates staged violent protests against misbehaviour of a policeman on duty there and irregularities at the centre.
The team talked to juvenile inmates at the centre and later briefed journalists about their visit.
“Some of the children's age is registered as nine with the police. We have advised the authority to ascertain the inmates' age medically, and if need be, return them to their families,” Kazi Riazul told The Daily Star.
He said the committee was satisfied with the preliminary initiatives taken by the local administration in controlling the situation after the protests.
However, the committee recognised some of the demands of the inmates as valid and suggested what the authority should do about them and how to avert future rebellion.
The committee suggested keeping the children in separate rooms based on their ages. It also advised the authority to transfer inmates aged over 18 to regular jails.
Riazul said the authority must ensure adequate and healthy diet for the children along with arrangements for entertainment and games. The commission would urge the minister concerned to form a committee to monitor transparency at the centre and standard of the food served.
“They must be allowed to meet their parents four times a month and be able to talk to their parents over the phone at least once a week. You cannot deprive children of their parents' love,” said Riazul.
On May 3, on-duty policemen beat up inmates at Jessore Kishore Unnayan Kendra when they staged a violent protest following an alleged abuse of a visitor by policemen.
They vandalised windows of the dormitory, prison van, library and dining room after the centre authority paid no heed to their complaints.
They also attacked the police camp at the centre and assaulted two policemen. Police fired five shots in the air to disperse the children.
At one stage, at least 12 inmates started hurting themselves, gashing their wrists, arms and chests.
The inmates said their protest was actually an outburst of discontent over deprivation of their basic rights. They said they were subjected to verbal abuse by policemen and officials of the centre regularly and the meals served were of poor quality.