Could there be a door of hope for every detainee accused of a crime that occurred before he turned 18? Perhaps yes and perhaps no. The Government of Bahrain signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, and in 2004 it joined the two optional protocols attached to it. However, 29 years after the ratification of the Convention, the laws in force, criminal and other trials still use the age of 15 as an age to start holding the child accountable instead of the age of 18 as stipulated in the convention.
In 2015, more than 250 children were held in Bahrain’s prisons among political prisoners. Hundreds of children were arrested after political charges were brought against them over participating in peaceful marches and protests, and were punished either by imprisonment or having their citizenships revoked, let alone the torture, ill-treatment and denial of medical treatment. Dozens of children were also killed by security forces.
There is nothing new in the aforementioned paragraphs. However, on Monday (February 22), the Public Prosecution put out on its own twitter account important tweets about the Corrective Justice Law for Children, which Bahrain’s king officially issued on February 21.
The most prominent points the law included is the one which stipulated raising the child’s age to (18 years) in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that there is no criminal liability for those under the age of 15 and that only precautionary measures will be taken against them. It stipulated that children under 15 years could not be held in pretrial detention, and allowed the specialized prosecution for children office to hold them in a social welfare institution for a period of not more than one week.
The new law stipulated the establishment of correctional justice courts for children (minor and high) according to the type of crime committed (felony or misdemeanor) by the accused child whose age ranges between 15 and 18.
The most important thing that families who have detained children should pay attention to is what the public prosecution said about setting up a judicial committee to deal with requests to replace the sentences, imposed before this law comes into force for children, who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. This means that every family with a convicted detainee, who has been charged with a crime that occurred before he reached 18 years of age, should rapidly assign a lawyer to apply to this committee to immediately replace the sentence.
The new law also stipulated that children with mental or psychological problems should be admitted to a specialized hospital and that their trial should be halted. In case the child was convicted, the execution of sentence should be postponed until he recovers from the illness.
Despite the public prosecution statement, it is clear that trials of children haven’t stopped. On Wednesday (February 24, 2021), four children (Hussein Abdulrasoul, 16, Fares Hussein, 17, Mohammad Jaafar, 16, and Sayed Hussein Amin, 16) will appear before the high criminal court over four charges (which happened between 2014 and 2020). The four may be sentenced to 3 years in jail over the charge of assembling and their sentence may reach 10 years over the charge of possessing Molotov cocktails.
Would the public prosecution and Bahraini authorities try to open a new door for dealing with cases of convicted detained children, or is it only an attempt to stop the criticism against Bahrain’s human rights record?