DIGITIZING THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

15, June 2022

Sakib, 16, smiles as he steps into his home in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the first time in months.

"It feels so good to be back with my family,” he says as he greets them. Sakib was being held in a detention centre in Tongi on the outskirts of Dhaka. But with concern growing about the risk of COVID-19 spreading rapidly in overcrowded conditions, virtual courts have been launched to expedite decisions on young people’s cases.

“It wasn’t so bad [at the detention centre],” Sakib says. “But I missed my mother terribly.”

On seeing her son, Sakib’s mother begins to cry. Overcome with emotion, Sakib’s smile also turns to tears. For mother and son, these are tears of joy – and relief.

Sakib is one of the more than 500 children who have been granted bail through the virtual courts, which were established with UNICEF support by the Bangladesh Supreme Court in May. Most of the children being held at these detention centres are there over minor alleged offences, but even these cases can take months – even years – to resolve.

Some 23,000 child-related cases are pending in the country’s courts. By mid-May, more than 1,000 of those with pending cases were being held in just three centres, resulting in significant overcrowding.

Around two thirds of those who have been let out on bail have been reintegrated with their families. On being discharged, children are advised by the facilities that they should follow their parents’ instructions and try to lead a good life. Sakib, for one, seems determined to follow that guidance.

“I’ll stay home because I know about the threat of coronavirus and I’ll try to avoid getting in with the wrong crowd,” he says. “I’ll also try to help my parents with their work.”

Sakib's father is happy that his son has been released, but he admits to some trepidation about making ends meet for their now seven-person household.

“Since the lockdown, my income has been very meager. We’re struggling to afford essentials even with financial contributions from two of my other sons, who work as electricians,” Sakib’s father says. “There are hardly any ways left for us to make money these days.”