Correction centres not much of help
The juvenile development centres of the country fail to equip its inmates with the kind of support that would enable a child to find employment in the market once he is released from such a centre.
Lack of adequate training facilities and low quality of training are blamed for this and as a result juveniles, after a stint at the development centre known as Kishore Unnayan Kendra (KUK), are often found to return to a life of crime.
Child rights activists and even some officials of the centres say the training and guidance provided at the development centres are inadequate to keep the children off streets.
Fifteen-year old Ratan, not his real name, is a stark example of this system failure.
His elderly grandmother was bringing up Ratan after his parents separated. She brought him to the KUK at Tongi a few years ago because he was going to the dogs.
After a few months at the centre, Ratan was released but within three months he had fallen into bad company again and was arrested for killing a man with a machete
Ratan is in Dhaka Central Jail while he is tried for hacking a man to death.
That was in 2004. Ratan is in Dhaka Central Jail now while he is tried for the killing.
The percentage of juveniles slipping back to committing offences could not be determined as neither the KUKs nor the department of social services, who run the KUKs, have any mechanism to follow up on the juveniles out of the centres.
The KUK at Tongi, with a capacity for 200 juveniles, was set up in 1978, the centre at Jessore was set up in 1992 and the centre at Konabari in Gazipur -- only for girls -- in 2002. The latter two centres can accommodate 150 juveniles each.
Until 2004 the centres were known as correction centres but are now known as development centres.
Since their establishment, 10,101 juveniles have been sent to the correction centres, out of which 7,280 were sent by their guardians and 2,821 sent by police, the Director (institution) of the Department of Social Service Habibur Rahman said.
Although the stated objective of these centres is to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of children, in practice they do not have the required skills or resources to fulfil this objective effectively, and have been criticised by experts for being simply places of confinement.
The centres provide inmates with education up to the primary level, counselling, healthcare and recreational facilities including games and televisions.
They also run four trade courses on automobile, electrical, tailoring and carpentry with the aim that the trainings will enable a juvenile get a job when he gets out of the centre.
However, equipment and training facilities remain inadequate. Only one instructor is appointed per course and they are often not skilled enough to deal with such large groups.
As a result youngsters, once out of the centres, find themselves unable to return to a normal life. Without proper employment to support themselves, they stray back to their old lives easily, experts say.
Some insiders suggest making the courses at the centres more timely and pragmatic. They suggest increasing technical facilities so that inmates of the centres can earn employable skills like training on repairing electric appliances like cell phone, radio or television sets.
Another suggestion is that youngster be provided with some funds at the end of their stint at a centre so that they can set up their own small businesses.
Staff shortage is another complaint at the centres. At the Tongi KUK only 42 out of the 57 posts have been filled. Two of the most important posts of “home parents” -- who would act like foster parents during the youngsters' stay at the centre -- remain vacant.
Sources say the quality of food at the centres is low and insufficient, vocational training programmes do not provide certificates of qualification and the equipment is inadequate.
While the KUKs aim to provide an individual case management approach, they do not have adequately trained and qualified staff to fulfil this function. The emphasis remains on confinement, rather than rehabilitation.
Corporal punishment is officially sanctioned under the Children Rules, which permit “caning not exceeding ten strikes” as a punishment for violating any one of the 30 stipulated rules of conduct.
Experts working with juveniles and children have been asking for long that these facilities are improved to save the children from, more often than not, a life of crime.