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Thursday 4th of June 2020

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Muhammad Imman Ali, Judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh

Wednesday 29th of July 2015 | Asia, Bangladesh

The Honourable Justice Muhammad Imman Ali was elevated as Judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, High Court Division in February 2001 and Appellate Division in February 2011. Previously, he had been Deputy Attorney General for Bangladesh from September 1998 to February 2001.

His book, ‘Towards a Justice Delivery System for Children in Bangladesh’, was published by UNICEF in 2010. He has also written a chapter on the new Children Act 2013 in the book ‘Justice for Children in Bangladesh’ by Najrana Imaan, published by Save the Children. 

He has lectured at the Judicial Administration Training Institute, training judges of the subordinate judiciary, and at the Legal Education Training Institute and Aparajayo Bangladesh, training lawyers and other relevant actors on the Children Act and other relevant instruments. Justice Ali has also been involved in training organised by IOM/LETI for police personnel, government officials and other actors involved in dealing with victims of trafficking, as well as the training of Judges, Prosecutors and Police in Armenia on juvenile justice. He has attended many national and international conferences, seminars and workshops on International Law and Human Rights, and has a particular interest in justice for children.

On December 2014, he was honoured with the ‘Juvenile Justice without Borders’ International Award by the IJJO for his dedication to the protection of children’s rights. As judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, he has worked as a key player in addressing the social, educational and welfare challenges facing children by raising awareness around their judicial safeguards in the Bangladesh legal system. He has become an inspiring example of the defence of children’s rights for many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


What sparked your interest in children’s rights?

In 2006 I presided over a Division Bench in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. During the course of hearing a death reference case involving a 15 year old who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of an eight year old girl, we realised that there was almost total ignorance of the provisions of the Children Act 1974. There was apparent hostility towards children who misbehaved and were alleged to have committed crimes. The case was one of no legal evidence, because the confessional statement was found to have been extorted by police torture as admitted by the victim girl’s father. There was no other evidence against the accused. So, instead of writing a two page judgement acquitting the boy, I decided to expound the law on juvenile justice and included reference to international instruments and norms as well as decisions from other countries. I also started training judges, prosecutors, advocates, probation officers, social workers and others working on cases involving children. Based on my lectures, I compiled a book as guidance for actors in the juvenile justice arena.           

What are the main factors you see contributing to the vulnerability of children in Bangladesh?

The most prevalent factor causing vulnerability is the perpetual cycle of poverty, which is linked also with the lack of education. Socio-cultural factors, such as patriarchy makes girls particularly vulnerable. Children from broken families, those affected by natural disasters such as cyclones, floods, river erosion, drought etc., are forced to leave their original homes and find themselves without shelter and means of support. Orphans and children of single parents are also naturally in a vulnerable situation. Either parent’s remarriage exposes the child to violence from and deprivation by the non-biological parent. Trafficking of children leads to their vulnerability.

What are the main difficulties you have encountered in the application of international standards for children within the Bangladeshi justice system?

The biggest hurdle has been the hostile attitude of adults towards children who do not conform to the perceived notions of good behaviour. The vast majority of the people who matter are still of the “old school” of thought who believe that children must be given a good beating for them to understand the difference between right and wrong. Those in the higher echelons of society do not care to stop and think about the circumstances of the children who develop criminogenic behaviour. The judges who sit to hear the cases of alleged offenders are by and large all from the middle and higher social and economic strata. Their children are less likely to be deprived and rarely fall foul of the law. They have not faced or experienced hardship and cannot easily relate to those who live in the shanties and the streets and those who survive from hand to mouth day in and day out. Their attitude towards children who come in their courts is one of disgust and disdain. The lack of awareness of the beneficial provisions enshrined in the international instruments in respect of children, and ultimately for the uplifting of any society and the common reluctance to try anything new is a huge barrier to the application of international norms. The lack of financial resources required to put in place many of the concepts also hampers their adoption into local usage. 

Which are the main trends in terms of juvenile justice reform?

Changing the law to adopt the provisions of international instruments is the new trend. We now have the Children Act 2013 which incorporates the provisions of the CRC which are relevant to children in conflict with the law as well as those who come into contact with the law as victims or witnesses. New Rules are in the draft stage. These will allow implementation of the concept of diversion from the time of arrest and beyond. Other alternative measures will be put into action. Alternatives to detention will have to be considered as part and parcel of the newly introduced concepts. There will be better and well-monitored facilities for custody of children who cannot be given to the custody of family or relatives.

There has been a considerable rise in awareness of the harmful effects of corporal punishment and child marriage. Laws now exist banning corporal punishment in educational institutions and the new Children Act effectively makes corporal punishment in the home actionable. New legislation is on the way to tackle the scourge of child marriage. 

What improvements have you seen in ensuring due process of the law for young people since the enactment of The Children Act in 2013? How important is it to the protection of children in contact with the law?

Rules which are needed to implement some of the newly enacted provisions are in the draft stage. Nevertheless, the statute has enabled functioning of specific Children Courts, one in each district, compared with only two specific juvenile courts which existed under the old law. Although there are teething problems, hopefully there will be quicker disposal with dedicated courts specifically for children. The provision with regard to mandatory legal representation before a case can proceed if the Court is already in place.

Child Affairs Desks have been set up in some Police Stations and more are in the process. Under the new law the Child Affairs Police Officer will be able to set in motion diversionary measures; failing that, he can grant bail. In this way the need to detain children in safe homes will be greatly reduced. In the long run, when the new concepts are fully in place, fewer cases will need to go to court.

When the Rules become available, the full spectrum of alternative justice system for children will be available for the protection of children in conflict with the law, including diversion, family group conferencing etc.

In its report 'Save Money, protect society and realise youth potential - Improving youth justice systems during a time of economic crisis' the IJJO has developed a set of practical recommendations to improve juvenile justice systems. Considering the budgetary constraints in Bangladesh, which are, in your opinion, the priority areas to invest in regarding juvenile justice?

It is vital that children are kept in education to the highest level possible. Those who drop out must be given the opportunity to get vocational training. This will ensure that fewer children come into conflict with the law at the first instance. Those who fall foul of the law must be kept away from institutionalised custody as far as possible.

A well trained police force and probation service can divert the vast majority of child offenders from the criminal justice system before they get to court. With the advent of family group conferencing, custody placements with families could be discussed and decided as an alternative to detention in quasi-prison settings.

1. Paid fostering: Though it is considered a no-go area, because no parents would be willing to take on as foster children those who are alleged to have committed a crime, I believe a scheme could be set up to keep a pool of prospective foster parents (possibly within the extended family) who would be willing to take in a child as part of the family.

2. Creation of artificial family settings: small residential units where a small number of children are kept in more open surroundings and lead normal lives within the community.

3. Improvement in the court setting by separating children’s courts from adult courts. Also there could be provision for video linking court rooms with the place of custody so that children do not have to physically be present in court. This would also save time and cost of travel to and from court.

4. Training of judges, probation officers, police, and in above all the community who will have to take the responsibility to look after their own children, give them proper education, guidance and support.

What is the current state of the development of alternative measures to the detention of children within the Bangladeshi legal system?

The concept of alternative custody for vulnerable children and those in contact with law is in the new legislation, but requires Rules to put it into practice. When in force, the Rules will allow custody to be given to parents or extended family members or to a suitable person in the community. Failing custody to any person, a child may be sent to a suitable institution.

To what extent is juvenile justice specialised training a requirement for Bangladeshi judges, magistrates and law enforcement agencies working with children’s cases?

Training is not a requirement in the law, but in order to reap the benefits of the newly enacted child-friendly concepts it is essential. Unfortunately, it has not started in earnest as yet. The judges engaged in the Children Courts are receiving training at the Judicial and Administration Training Institute. Training is required for the other actors, including police, probation officers, lawyers and NGO workers. This is where international NGOs should be taking the lead, but are yet to come on board.

Is there a stigmatization of children in conflict with the law in Bangladesh? If so, what measures do you think could be taken to help improve societal perceptions?

Stigmatisation is inevitable for children in conflict with the law. There should be more involvement of the community in dealing with the alleged offending children so that they realise the reasons behind the behaviour of the children and can actively participate in finding ways of dealing with their own children within their community.

The legal age for marriage in Bangladesh is 21 years for boys and 18 for girls. Nevertheless, Bangladesh has some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. What are the main causes of this phenomenon and what measures would be most effective to reduce these rates?

Child marriage in Bangladesh is by and large poverty driven. There is a vicious cycle of poverty preventing children from getting education and that in turn causes poverty. The following may be considered specific reasons for child marriage:

- The most prevalent reason is sexual harassment of girls. Poor parents who both work are afraid of leaving a grown-up girl alone in the house. So, the easiest solution is to marry her off so that her husband can look after her.

- Inability to provide food and clothing often leads to early marriage.

- Fear of having to pay higher dowry as the girl gets older results in decision to marry girls at an early age.

- There is also a trend of following perceived tradition. "Your mother was married when she was 12 so there is no harm in you being married now that you are 13" is the typical reasoning given to a young girl. A village girl who is uneducated does not stand in a position to bargain.

- Lack of education of girls leads to ignorance of the dangers and drawbacks of early marriage and results in lack of resistance from the girls.

What is necessary most of all is the drive to educate girls. For this to be effective there needs to be provision for:

- Capacity building for the family so that they can afford to send their children to school, including provision for school uniform, stationary and transport cost

- Food security for the family so that the girl is not required to leave home to work as a domestic worker in order to save cost of food and clothing for her. She may also earn a little money to support the rest of the family.

- Safe travel to and from school, e.g. supervised school transport or bicycles.

- Suitable facilities in school for adolescent girls.

- School curriculum to include instruction on reproductive health matters including child marriage, hygiene, etc.

- Secure home surroundings.

- Advice on career structure, including possibilities of further studies or vocational training,

- Counseling for parents/guardians about the harms brought by child marriage and benefits which will be brought by educating the girls.

You are a member of the Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice (APCJJ), an IJJO think tank on Juvenile justice for the Asia-Pacific Region. Has there been an improvement in regional cooperation among Asia-Pacific countries concerning juvenile justice in recent years? What are the main challenges for the APCJJ concerning the improvement of Juvenile Justice in the Region?

The APCJJ was set up two years ago. However, I can report that, based on what I saw in Bangkok during the APCJJ meeting, I am in the process of organising the linking of our three Children Development Centres (CDCs) with the outlying districts via video so that the children who are far away from home and whose parents are unable to visit them, can contact their family via Skype. I hope that in due course this scheme will lead to video-connecting the CDCs with Courts so that children will not have to be transported long distances in order to be physically present in Court. This will save time and money and will result in quicker disposal of cases.

Embracing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all the member countries would obviously result in better treatment of children, ensuring their rights without discrimination. This is a trend across the globe and none should be left behind.

There are many factors delaying the adoption of the beneficial provisions of the CRC, not least of which is the fact that the countries of this region, though they have some similarity in culture and tradition, are also very dissimilar. In addition, they are at various stages of economic development, which is a prerequisite to provision of adequate services to the citizens of individual States. Many countries may not yet be in a financial position to be able to take a holistic approach to needs of children. The traditions and socio-cultural norms used in child protection schemes by any country in the region can be used in other countries to good advantage if they appear to bring favourable results.

I feel that it is time to consider setting up a core team of experts within APCJJ to collect and disseminate information/training where the need is felt by any country. APCJJ could be a catalyst in bringing about uniformity in thought insofar as the rights of children in the region are concerned.

One other suggestion would be to lobby for the setting up of a UN Court for Children’s Rights which would ensure uniform application of the CRC, and in the long run, ensure the rights of children across the world.

More information


Children Act 2013

  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

    All rights reserved

  • Head Office: Rue Armand Campenhout, nº 72 bte 10. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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