I never wanted to go to school. Instead, I started loading tiles in a factory. The job became difficult after sometime and my friend and I broke into a shop at night.
The police found us and we were taken to a remand home where we received counselling,” recollects Mithun (name changed), a 17-year-old. Raja (name changed), a 16-year-old from Mysore, is also trying to move on after a brutal past. He was caught by a constable for robbing bikes and cycles while he was in his tenth grade.
“I was caught by the police and spent a night in the police station. After that, I worked in a remand home for a month and went back home after getting bail. I indulged in crime again because I got back to my old friends’ circle and was convicted for six months, after which I came here. I want to work in the future.”
Like these two young boys, there are many juvenile delinquents who are slowly entering the mainstream society after counselling and rehabilitation.
Mithun and Raja are now staying at ECHO, a special home for juvenile delinquents, in the City. The good news is that Mithun recently completed his training programme in hotel management.
After working for a while in a hotel, he dreams of becoming a sailor. “After coming here, I studied in Jyothi School and have finished a hotel management training programme. I will work and continue living here,” he says.
Raja, meanwhile, has learnt yoga and has also done the traffic police training programme. He also learnt typing and went through tutoring for seventh grade in the six months that he spent at the special home.
“More than 600 young adults have been rehabilitated and are now working in ice cream parlours, shopping malls, supermarkets, showrooms and as traffic policemen,” says Father Antony Sebastian, director of ECHO and a member of the juvenile justice board.
“We try to keep the matter as private as possible when we enrol children in schools. We intervene only when there is a major problem. Two children are graduating from Christ University and another child is studying in Kristu Jayanti,” he informs.
“The first thing we tell the children is to forget the past. Legal action also takes place without harming the child and we try to divert the child’s mind from the crime. Convicted children are trained in courses like hotel management, traffic police training programmes and other diploma courses. We also take tuitions for children and conducts secular, spiritual activities,” he says.However the reformation process is not easy. Margaret, a part-time counsellor, says that it takes time for the child to open up.
“Most children come here with a feeling of regret and want to reform. We don’t investigate the crime immediately but try to find out the child’s family background. We find out whether the children want to continue their studies and if they are below 13, we coax them and ask them to go to school. They are depressed and have mood swings. Very few indulge in crime after getting rehabilitated.”
George PS of Bosco Yuvodeya, another shelter, says, “In a month, about 600 people have been rehabilitated after which the follow-up is done for a year. We ensure that the child is safe at home through frequent visits.
85 per cent of rescued people in Bosco go back home and work as traffic policemen. During the follow-up, if they get into criminal acts again, we bring them back to the centre and start the rehabilitation process.”
Father Anthony adds that there is a certain amount of ostracisation that juvenile delinquents face. “Parents don’t want the child to come back and most kids also choose to live in juvenile homes as they are scared that they would be harassed by the police,” he says.
But Mithun is now looking at the future with stars in his eyes. “I want to work and earn respect,” he says.