Forgiveness under strain as juveniles dabble in crime

About 160 juveniles were apprehended on rape charges in 2013

The increasing involvement of juveniles in rape cases is a disturbing trend. According to a 2014 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the involvement of juveniles in rape cases in Delhi rose by 158 per cent in 2013 (163 cases) as against 2012 (63).

And there was a 30 per cent increase in overall crimes committed by juveniles during the same period.  At least 163 juveniles were apprehended on rape charges and 76 in murder cases in the city in 2013.

Nationwide, the report said the highest increase in crimes committed by juveniles in 2013 was reported under assault on woman to outrage her modesty (132 per cent), followed by insult to the modesty of women (70 per cent) and rape (60 per cent).

A debate on lowering the age of juvenile offenders from 18 to 16 or 15, brewing for some time, came into sharp focus after the public outcry over the brutal December 16, 2012 gang-rape case in which a juvenile accused escaped with a lighter punishment because of his age.

The issue has again come to the fore again after the rape of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl in west Delhi’s Nihal Vihar last week, allegedly by two boys, aged 16 and 17.

After the incident, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that his government will examine and recommend a proposal to lower the age of juvenile offenders from 18 to 15 and prosecute them as adults for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

Kejriwal and the Centre, for the first time, could be on the same page as the Lok Sabha had passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2014 in May, which would have allowed children in the 16-18 age group to be tried as adults if they committed heinous crimes. But the bill did not get through in Rajya Sabha.

The move by both the governments could be backed by data as among the total juveniles apprehended under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 2013, 66 per cent belonged to the age group of 16-18 years. The figures suggest the law is not proving to be a deterrent.

According to police officials, minor offenders are aware that they would be out in some time and don’t feel threatened by punishment. While the clamour for bringing change in law has grown in the recent past, experts term it as a “cosmetic” exercise. They argue there are many reasons such as disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and low education levels, which contribute towards their vulnerability.

Socio-economic background emerges as a major factor as a large chunk of the arrested offenders comes from poor families. Data also shows that of the total juveniles involved in crimes in 2013, 51.9 per cent were illiterate or had education till primary level.

“There is no social role modelling for these children. In slums, mostly there is nothing in the name of child rearing practices. The juvenile offenders see women being harassed in their homes or neighbourhoods and no punishment being awarded to men. So they think it is okay to hurt a woman and there is no guilt when they commit crimes like rape. Respect for women should be taught and modelled in front of them,” says Delhi based psychologist Dr Arti Anand.

“The involvement of juveniles in these cases is scientifically not surprising in a society like ours, which has a sexual contradictory attitude. These juveniles seek outlet for their suppressed sexuality,” says Dr Nimesh G Desai, director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Applied Sciences (IHBAS).

He argues the relation between school dropouts and offenders is like that of “chicken and egg”.

“It is hard to establish if young juveniles who are prone to such criminal behaviour drop out of schools or is it a result of rejection by society and our education system that triggers their behaviour,” he says.

Experts also say that a first step in this direction could be improving the condition of remand homes, where juveniles are lodged as part of their reformation. The homes, run by the government, are expected to prepare the young offenders for a constructive life ahead and offer vocational courses and counselling. However, most of them are in a pitiable state today.

Most believe that punishment is not a sufficient deterrent. According to them, merely changing the law is the “easy way” out and if it was done, it should be coupled with rehabilitation and reformatory programmes.

“There is no end to reducing the age limit. There is a need for overall community development for those living in slums. There is no restorative justice for such people. There is absolutely no programme to inculcate moral empathy in slum children for their psychological development. There are psychological tests that detect criminal tendencies in children. Such tests should be done, following which programmes to reform them should be taken up in an elaborate manner,” says S P K Jena, associate professor in Applied Psychology, University of Delhi, South Campus.

He says one bar for all juvenile offenders may not bring results and that each case should be decided on the mental and intellectual maturity of the child.

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