Dubai Juvenile Court judge urges tougher sentences for youth

Punishments that had been detailed in the original 1976 law are no longer used. They included time in a rehabilitation facility, compulsory community service and bans on certain activities.
Judge Omar Karmustaji is calling for reforms within the juvenile court aystem. Prior to becoming a judge, Mr Karmustaji was a member of the Dubai Police force for 15 years. Lee Hoagland/The National
Judge Omar Karmustaji is calling for reforms within the juvenile court aystem. Prior to becoming a judge, Mr Karmustaji was a member of the Dubai Police force for 15 years. Lee Hoagland/The National

DUBAI // A leading juvenile court judge says the options open to him for dealing with young offenders are ineffective, and has called for the restoration of punishments that have been discontinued.

Judge Omar Karmustaji says that when young people break the law he is restricted to reprimanding them, handing them over to their parents’ custody or placing them under a judicial supervision order.

He said other punishments were specified under the original 1976 law, but were no longer used. They included a spell in a rehabilitation centre, compulsory community work or vocational training, and bans on visiting specific places or engaging in certain activities.

Mr Karmustaji believes such sentences would be an effective deterrent and could greatly reduce youth crime. “During the social services period set by the court, the juvenile would be able to see the real world and the outcome of leading a good life,” he said.

Parents also need to take more responsibility for their children, said the judge, a father of five.

“Some parents give up on their children if they end up in court while schools expel any student who is involved in a sex offence,” the judge said.

“Instead of embracing them and taking them a step at a time to overcome their problem, they throw them straight into the mouth of the beast.

“A parent should befriend his child instead of giving him up and a school should provide guidance instead of expelling the student.”

He said the media should do more to educate youngsters about the consequences of crime.

He also called for charities and organisations to launch sport, cultural and social activities.

He described how when judging some cases he often finds himself in an impossible situation.

“I would be reprimanding the juvenile in the presence of his parent and trying to explain how what he or she did was wrong, but then my efforts hit a wall when I see the parent trying to defend his child and coming up with excuses,” he said.

At Dubai Juvenile Court, most cases are minor crimes such as assault, thefts, and traffic offences. Many involve children under 15 illegally driving cars.

“I don’t think that there is one juvenile in the Emirati community who did not drive his father’s, mother’s or brother’s car, it’s fine,” said Mr Karmustaji.

“I myself know people who give the car to their underage children to drive, but I would recommend that it should be done under the supervision of the adult and on back roads.

“This could actually bring the juvenile closer to his parent and a friendship would grow, which with time will help create a healthy communication between the two and maybe prevent the child from committing a crime some day.”

However, sex assaults and drugs consumption cases were also increasingly common.

“The juvenile is the victim in all cases. He is the victim of circumstance. Family, social and financial problems and bad friends are the cause of many of the crimes that come in front of me,” Mr Karmustaji said.

Because of this, he urged parents to forge closer bonds with their children.

“I become a child when I play with my own kids, I stoop to their level in order to understand them and communicate with them.”

Parents should always know their children better and who their friends are, he said.

He said mothers played a significant role in what the child grows up to become.

“By all means, get a helper but don’t depend on her fully when it comes to what your children need. I have seen cases where the maids abuse the children and in one case, a maid was caught prostituting the child of her sponsor for Dh5 per man.”

In most of the court cases he had seen, the parents had either divorced or the father was constantly away on business.

He also said parents of different nationalities caused other issues.

“It will be confusing for the child if he grows up to see that certain things are allowed by his mother’s culture but not accepted by ours,” he said.

With his two girls and three boys, he sometimes uses court cases to teach them about right from wrong.

“I always talk to my children, advise then and guide them,” he said.

Published: May 3, 2014 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one