Virtual courts expedite the release of the children awaiting trial amid Covid-19 pandemic
Unicef has welcomed the release of the first group of children held in detention facilities while awaiting trial in Bangladesh.
As a response to the disruption of regular court proceedings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court established virtual children’s courts with support from Unicef.
The children’s courts expedite the trial of children in conflict with the law with a view to releasing them from juvenile detention centres to avoid possible infection with Covid-19.
Since public court proceedings were postponed in March, the number of children detained has increased. Their number is now is almost twice the capacity of the juvenile detention centres.
More than 1,000 children, awaiting trial or sentenced for petty crimes, are currently held in three centres.
With limited staff and logistical support, and with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, it is exceptionally difficult for children and staff to practice physical distancing or to self-isolate to minimize the risk of infection.
These facilities can become hotspots of infection where the virus incubates and spreads.
Putting the best interests of the children first, the President of Bangladesh, Abdul Hamid, issued the ordinance to introduce virtual courts on May 9, and Bangladesh’s first-ever virtual children’s court began operating on May 12.
Unicef provides technical support to the Department of Social Services and the centres to manage the court procedures.
Unicef Representative in Bangladesh Tomoo Hozumi said: “I wholeheartedly commend the decision to introduce virtual children’s courts and very much welcome the release of children from detention. The well being and protection of children must be at the centre of our response to Covid-19."
“By acting with a sense of urgency on all fronts, we can prevent the pandemic from transforming into a lasting crisis for children.”
Improved justice for children
Following the release yesterday of the first group of seven children, several hundred children can be released in the next two weeks.
Unicef is working with the Department of Social Services to help reunite the children with their families by communicating with families and accompanying the children on their journey home.
The organization supports safe reintegration into the family setting by facilitating access to health care and other services such as psycho-social support, violence prevention and response, and education.
Bangladesh has a juvenile justice system. At the same time, it needs to further strengthen a court setup that caters better to the needs of children.
Unicef works actively with the Supreme Court Special Committee on Child Rights and the Ministry of Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs for improved justice for children, including child-friendly courts.
Sixteen out of 102 courts now offer a less intimidating environment and have staff that are trained on child rights. Following the ordinance to introduce virtual courts, Unicef now provides technical support to develop practice directions that aim to enhance the child-friendliness of the children’s courts.