KARACHI: Since earlier this month, 16 Afghan children-- some as young as seven years old-- have been in jail in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province for illegally entering the country, according to the provincial human rights adviser, Veerji Kohli, who is advocating for their release and deportation.
The group of children, alongside five adult men that police says are their relatives, were arrested by paramilitary rangers on Nov. 21 as they attempted to enter Sindh from eastern Punjab province. They did not have any legal documents on them and were handed over to police in Kashmore for legal proceedings.
“These are minors who have not committed the offense on their own,” Kohli told Arab News on Saturday.
“The court trial takes a long time, that’s why I requested Chief Minister Sindh to direct the law department to quash their case so that the children may be returned to their parents in Afghanistan,” he said.
The five adults should be tried for the offense, he added.
In a letter to Sindh’s Chief Minister dated Nov. 26, Kohli said he had seen on a visit of Sukkur prisons that 16 minor children that he presumes are between the ages of 7 and 14 years, were detained in a juvenile jail-- the Youthful Offender Industrial School Sukkur-- and charged under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act.
“When enquired it was learned that these children belong to Afghanistan and they illegally crossed the border, that is a crime but otherwise as per the police investigation, they are not involved/ wanted in any other crime,” the letter said.
Sindh’s Inspector General of Prisons, Kazi Nazir Ahmed, told Arab News that the children were “otherwise comfortable” but could only speak Dari, a dialect of Persian spoken in Afghanistan.
“They are otherwise comfortable but they can’t communicate with the staff there,” Ahmed said.
“They want to go back home soon. We’ll try to keep them in the best possible manner.”
Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Kashmore, Amjad Ahmed Sheikh, told Arab News that the group was trying to reach Karachi when they were arrested.
“When interrogated, they admitted before police that they had entered Pakistan without any legal traveling documents but said they wanted to go to Karachi because the law and order and financial condition in their home country was awful,” Sheikh said.
He said the adult men accompanying the children were their relatives and no woman was accompanying the group.
“They are all relatives and members of an extended family who wanted to settle in Sindh for a better life,” the police officer said.
No documentary proof is available with the police to verify this account.
In another case in August this year, 10 Afghan children were smuggled to Pakistan to be enrolled into religious schools in the country’s northwest. Last month, the children were returned to their homes with the help of the Afghan consulate in Peshawar.
The Chief Minister has not yet initiated the process for the release and deportation of the 16 children jailed in Sukkur, but Kohli said the process would soon begin.
Kohli said both the Sindh law department and federal ministry of interior would have to initiate the process to quash the cases.
“These are minor children and don’t deserve to be in jail any longer,” he said.