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Landmark Supreme Court Verdict Calls for Child-Friendly Courts to Uphold Children’s Rights

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Barrister Qazi Naveed

The welfare of minors refers to ensuring the well-being and best interests of children. It encompasses providing a nurturing and supportive environment for children, addressing their unique needs and concerns, and safeguarding them from potential harm or negative impacts, particularly in the context of legal proceedings or family disputes. Prioritizing the welfare of minors involves taking into account their emotional, psychological, and physical needs and ensuring that decisions and processes are centred around promoting their overall development and stability.

Ensuring the welfare of minors, especially in family disputes between husbands and wives, is of paramount importance for several reasons. Firstly, children who are caught in the midst of parental conflict are particularly vulnerable to emotional distress and psychological harm. The outcome of such disputes can significantly impact the well-being and stability of their living environment, affecting their overall development and mental health.

In cases where custody decisions are made, prioritizing the welfare of minors is crucial for providing them with a nurturing and supportive environment. A child-friendly approach in family disputes recognizes the unique needs of children and aims to minimize the negative effects of the legal process on their emotional and psychological state. This includes ensuring that children have access to supportive resources and that their best interests are central to the decision-making process.

Additionally, prioritizing the welfare of minors in family disputes helps in upholding their rights as individuals with distinct needs and concerns. It emphasizes the importance of creating a safe and conducive atmosphere for children within the legal framework, thereby acknowledging their rights to be protected from the potential negative impacts of parental disputes.

Furthermore, recognizing and addressing the welfare of minors in family disputes fosters a sense of responsibility and empathy within the legal system. It underscores the significance of acknowledging the vulnerability of children in such situations and underscores the need for judges and legal professionals to approach these cases with sensitivity and a child-centered focus.

Overall, prioritizing the welfare of minors in family disputes not only safeguards their rights but also contributes to the creation of a more compassionate and child-friendly legal environment, ensuring that children are not unduly affected by the conflicts between their parents.

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, under the influential leadership of Justice Athar Minallah, has underscored the imperative need for child-friendly courts equipped with specially trained judges. The judgment, championed by Justice Athar Minallah, emphasized that the welfare of minors should constitute the foundational principle in custody decisions. In a landmark decision, Justice Athar Minallah asserted that the courts must meticulously evaluate and determine a course of action serving the best interests of the children. This ruling gained significance in a family dispute where a petitioner contested the Lahore High Court’s decision, which granted custody to the father. The verdict not only addressed the specifics of the case but also brought attention to crucial aspects, including the impact of the court’s atmosphere, the necessity for specialized training for judges, the provision of childcare, and Article 35 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, which underscores the state’s responsibility to safeguard marriage, family, mother, and child.

It is undeniable that the traditional court setting poses significant challenges for children involved in legal proceedings. The atmosphere of these courts is often intimidating and hostile, particularly distressing for young victims, witnesses, or child offenders. The absence of child-friendly practices in such environments only amplifies the trauma experienced by children and undermines the pursuit of justice tailored to their needs.

Implementing a child-friendly court system is crucial to minimize the trauma children may experience in traditional court settings and ensure that their rights and best interests are upheld. These specialized courts employ child-sensitive questioning techniques, utilize one-way mirrors to prevent direct confrontation with perpetrators, and ensure the presence of trained professionals, such as child psychologists, to provide support during proceedings.

Adopting international best practices in the Pakistani judicial system is not just a suggestion, but a necessity. It is a crucial step towards improving the court atmosphere for children and ensuring that the justice system is accessible, sensitive, and responsive to their needs. This alignment with global standards would not only protect children’s rights and welfare throughout legal proceedings but also significantly enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Pakistani judicial system.

Developed countries have already established high standards for legal systems accommodating the unique needs of children. For instance, the UK’s child-friendly court system extensively uses video links and other testimonial aids to protect children from the trauma of facing the accused in person. This approach not only safeguards the child’s emotional well-being but also assists them in providing clearer and more reliable testimonies.

Furthermore, the UK courts provide access to a range of support services for children, including counseling and legal assistance tailored to their needs. The presence of child psychologists and social workers ensures that children receive the necessary support to cope with the stress and emotional impact of legal proceedings.

Extending empathy and sensitivity to every child subjected to legal proceedings, including juveniles, witnesses, and victims, is not just a moral obligation, but a critical necessity. The enforcement of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000, which focuses on rehabilitating juveniles in society, becomes essential to ensure that children are not subjected to harsh treatment or punishment. The state should guarantee their medical and legal aid, special courts, speedy trials, and protected identities. Educating every citizen about child protection laws is not just pivotal, but an immediate and urgent need to safeguard our most valuable resource – our children.

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