Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that Bahrain security forces are routinely detaining children and subjecting them to cruel treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Information from victims, families, and human rights activists suggests that the authorities are holding children for long periods of time, during which the children are beaten and threatened with torture. Many of the children being detained have participated in anti-government protests that began during the Arab Spring in 2011.
The European Parliament has responded to the situation in Bahrain by issuing a resolution denouncing the government’s actions and urging it, “to respect the rights of juveniles, to refrain from detaining them in adult facilities, and to treat juveniles in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bahrain is a party.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that participatory nations protect their children from ill treatment and torture and provide prompt access to legal assistance for detained children.
In one account, the brother of a detained child said that police showed up at a pool party on September 5 and arrested 14 people, including nine children between the ages of 15 and 17. His brother was among those arrested. On the day after the arrest, the child was able to contact his family and recount the details of his detention. According to his account, he and the other children were blindfolded and beaten before being taken into custody. While detained, they were intimidated and pressed to admit to a September 1 attack on police officers. On September 11, the boy’s family had yet to see him, and he did not have access to a lawyer or social worker.
Other reports suggest that child victims have been illegally detained, beaten, threatened with rape and even burnt with cigarettes. Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW said, “The Bahraini authorities need to look into these allegations and immediately call a halt to any arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of children.” The HRW report urges Bahraini officials to conduct independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of child torture and illegal detention. For those children that are detained, officials should notify families and allow the children access to legal representation.
The Bahraini security forces’ abuse of children is part of a larger crackdown on protesters that are demanding political reform in the country. The constitutional monarchy does not appear concerned with allegations of human rights abuse. Since July, Bahrain’s parliament has urged King Al Khalifa to toughen punishments prescribed by the country’s 2006 anti-terrorism laws.
– Daniel Bonasso