Young caught in conflict with law

Most welfare schemes of the government hardly reach the youth, thus pushing them to crime

Young caught in conflict with law

If numbers are to be believed, then crimes by juvenile children (aged under 18) are humongous in Karnataka. An assessment made by senior police officials based on the number of First Information Reports (FIRs) is that the State registers nearly 30,000 to 33,000 cases every year on crimes by young people. This has been the number at least for the last five years.

Police officials told Deccan Herald that they have been registering a high number of FIRs on juvenile crimes over the last few years and that they see youngsters involved in both serious and non-serious offences also rising in the State and Bangalore. This is also the trend in other major metros. Juvenile crime, police say, is a massive urban issue in the country.

Multiple factors lead to juvenile crime. “Broken homes, lack of siblings, parental care, mother’s love, poor economic conditions, no access to education, joint families becoming nuclear families and nuclear families slipping into single households, lack of decent housing, lack of friends and close ties with friends or relatives are just some of the factors leading to juvenile crimes,” a senior police official said.

Bangalore and other metros have been seeing youth under 18 involved increasingly in serious offences compared with non-serious offences, the official points out. “Youth under 18 are involved in crimes such as rape, murder, attempt to murder and stabbing. Their involvement in non-serious offences in any case has been persisting. In the Nirbhaya rape case, it was an under-18 youth who was the most severe and aggressive attacker. Such crimes are clearly on the rise. We see rape reported almost every day in newspapers. And there may be many incidents that go unreported. Clearly, there is no doubt what urbanisation has done to people, families particularly. The economically weak suffer the most, not only in terms of their living conditions but also in terms of losing their children to the world of crime.”

The FIRs indicate the volume of offe­nces, but how many do actually turn into trial cases? Police say the conversion rate of FIRs into cases that actually go to trial is around 60-70 per cent. Even then, the volume of crimes is high. The worry is children deserting their homes, losing their way, becoming labourers and slowly gett­ing entangled in criminal activities. Delinquency is not new. It exists even in adva­nced countries such as the United States. Haven’t we witnessed shooting sprees in the United States? Where there is concentration of wealth and inequality, crime is high there. And the increasing population, too, is leading to a rise in the number of youth on the streets. Streetchildren are particularly impacted.

While an overall study of juvenile delinquency has not been undertaken by the State government or the police, a study on a smaller scale, and one that is representative has been conducted by a non-governmental organisation – Empowerment of Children and Human Rights Orga­nisation (ECHO). ECHO-Centre for Juvenile Justice has been working since the year 2000 with children in conflict with the law and those in need of care and protection under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000 (JJ Act 2000). It is the only organisation in the country, authorised by the State government to run independently special homes for children in conflict with the law. In the course of administration of special homes, ECHO conducted a study among 2,500 children to understand the causes of juvenile crime. ECHO came up with a variety of findings.Dr Antony Sebastion O Praem, advocate and Executive Director of ECHO-Centre for Juvenile Justice, says their study found that 73 per cent of the juveniles involved in crimes belonged to the age group of 16-18 years. “Among the serious offences, murder is the category that was found to be the highest (16 per cent), followed by attempt to murder (5.62 per cent), and rape (3.75 per cent). We found rape has not fallen in the highest category of crimes committed by juveniles.”

Praem says the study revealed a direct link between offences and lack of education. Lack of education is the result of acute poverty; the cause of poverty is the failure of the government to provide the basic needs to the underprivileged and the fallout from this basic failure of the state is the neglect of these children and their tendency to be in conflict with the law. Children are deprived of parental love, happy childhood and protection mechanisms and, therefore, they get entangled with law. They have never tasted the benefits of child protection such as free education, foster care, sponsorship, scholarship, rehabilitation and welfare provisions from the government.

“Nearly 94 per cent of the juvenile children do not have proper and adequate parental care, which is due to acute poverty and lack of welfare mechanisms. Broken homes and families, lack of social security, parental irresponsibility and a steep rise in divorce rates, desertion and separation are all contributory factors pushing children to commit offences,” says Praem.

Economic stress is high among the majority of families with children in conflict with the law. The study has shown that 89 per cent of such children come from poor financial backgrounds. Their impoverishment, says the study, compels them to take up petty labour that fetches them a meagre income. In search of work, or in the course of being engaged in petty jobs, these children get in touch with criminal gangs or anti-social groups and gradually get involved in crimes. ECHO’s assessment is that most of the welfare schemes of the government intended for the poor and vulnerable sections of society have not benefited or reached a majority of the youth.

ECHO’s study believes that under these circumstances and the practical day-to-day adverse situations they face, lowering the age of juveniles to 16 years would be fatal to the country and its citizens. Children aged between 16 and 18 can be reformed with effective counselling and proper rehabilitation. Remand homes are not equipped to provide necessary facilities to this age group, which may result in them being abused, exploited and adversely influenced by adult criminals, ultimately turning them into hard-core criminals and not responsible individuals.

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