Malik Tahir Iqbal
Tahir grew up in a hierarchical society where the rule of law and human rights didn’t exist. It was his parents who fostered his belief system based on equality and justice. These ideas, otherwise unfamiliar in rural Pakistan, fascinated him as a child and culminated in a career in law and social activism. As a law student at Sindh Muslim Law College, Tahir would visit local jails with his class and saw the suffering of children in prisons, sometimes languishing in the same cells as adults and serious offenders. This ignited his passion for the rights of juveniles. As an advocate for their rights, he believes that they are entitled to certain basic rights: to live in a safe environment, to education, to health and for them to enjoy childhood.
Tahir has done social work since university. At law school, he was actively involved in student associations, including serving as president of his school’s student union. Shortly after, he became involved with the Anjuman Talaba-e-Islam and Al-Mustafa Welfare Society following the major Pakistani earthquake in 2005. There he observed with earthquake victims and saw first hand how people suffered from the devastating affects of a natural disaster. This opportunity affirmed his interest in working to benefit society’s most marginalized groups.
Tahir is aware of the gap that exists between the written law and the actual implementation of human rights legislation; often, juveniles and the indigent accused are the ones who are neglected by the system. He also knows that one cannot rely solely on the government to deliver and protect the rights of his people.
With that reality in mind, Tahir founded the Legal Rights Forum (LRF) in Karachi in 2007. LRF was created to ensure legal protections for society’s most vulnerable — particularly Pakistan’s indigent accused and children. A legal aid center powered by pro bono legal assistance, LRF has become well known in the Karachi area for providing effective defense for those who need it most. (For more on Legal Rights Forum – Pakistan, see: http://www.lrfpk.com.)
Hundreds of children are languishing in Pakistan’s prisons where they are exposed to malnutrition, denied an education, and held without access to legal counsel. The establishment of a formal juvenile justice system is long overdue — due to lack of interest and shortage of funds. Terrible condition within the jails, few resources to help child detainees, and lack of financial support — the problems are pervasive and the need is critical.
Tahir is using his $5,000 JusticeMakers Fellowship to advocate for a functional juvenile justice system. By addressing the physical and psychological abuse juveniles often suffer while in detention, he hopes to ensure children are safe and properly rehabilitated. Tahir will also implement a reliable system for collecting prison data, so as to gage the progress of reforms within the delivery of juvenile justice.