Observations on Juvenile Detention

Public opinion in Bahrain was recently preoccupied with the issue of the detention of a number of children below 18-year on security grounds. The exact number of those detained and accused of unlicensed assembly, the possession of fire arms and Molotov cocktails is unknown. The number of detained children was discussed by newspapers and MPs, which according to some estimates could be as low as 65 or as high as 85. The Juvenile Public Prosecutor, Noora Al Khalifa rejected these figures by saying that they were inaccurate, unverified and could mislead the public. However, she did not give the exact number.

A number of factors brought this issue to light. It is obvious that such children were involved in rioting and hence the following objections are not directed at the nature of the charges but rather on other issues, which include:

Objections directed at the manner in which they were detained as it violated the law, because their place of detention was unknown for days. The Government said that some were detained because of their participation in riots.

There are also objections over time span of the detention. The children spent several months in detention before being put on trial. According to some reports, some of the children should have been released immediately after the end of the investigation, until the commencement of the trial.

It is alleged that the detainees were held in adult detention centres and prisons. The Government denied this allegation or at least denied some specific cases. Brigadier Mohammad Bomahmood from the Ministry of Interior dismissed the claims and said that they were kept in Juvenile care centres. These centres are under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Development, which provides suitable educational programs.

There were some criticisms directed at the Government for its failure to comply with the International Convention on The Rights of The Child, which it ratified in February 1992 and came into force in March 1992. For example, the Government prevented children from sitting their final exams, despite parents’ persistence. Noora Al Khalifa believes that “the legislative and executive policies in the Kingdom regarding children conform with international laws and conventions. The procedures of the Public Prosecutor also conform with these laws.”

Human rights activists also criticized the Government for its lack of transparency in providing basic information to the guardians of the children. Also, Government legal procedures were very slow causing psychological and physical pressure to the detained children.

Cases involving juveniles are very sensitive and hence need to be dealt with in a professional, accurate and fast manner. The human side of these cases should be taken into consideration. We understand that extremists incite children into violence in order to achieve their political goals. We also understand that parents of those children are not fulfilling their duties in guiding and caring for their children. We also understand that any shortcomings in this regard could have grave consequences.