Marginalised, isolated: Children in the world of crime

Children in conflict with the law

Representative image. (Photo/Pixabay)

The youngest child at the Government Observation Home for Boys in Madiwala, Bengaluru – where children in conflict with the law are provided residential care and protection during the process of inquiry against them – is a 10-year-old school dropout.

The ‘crime’ that landed the child in the facility was throwing a stone at a panchayat office, which damaged a computer there. Apparently, an adult frustrated with an official, had instigated him. On the day of his trial in the juvenile court, located within the premises of the Observation Home, his guardian turned up late and the hearing got postponed by two weeks. His stay at the Home got longer. Also booked for the same offence was his 13-year-old cousin, another school dropout. The cousins, who live with their poor grandmother, were playing near the panchayat office on that fateful day.

Also read — When home is not enough, a perilous journey begins

These are the stories of kids that make up the numbers of those lodged in such facilities. Data shows that a total of 142 children were admitted to the Observation Home in Madiwala from April to August 2019. The figure for 2018-2019 stood at 431 children, and that for 2017-2018 at 454. The Home has jurisdiction over Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Chikkaballapura, Tumakuru and Ramanagara districts.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2016 shows that the number of crimes committed by children in Karnataka were 453, while the all-India figure stood at 35,849.

Given the numbers, it’s important to examine what pushes children into conflict with the law. According to Anant Asthana, a Delhi-based child rights lawyer the State's negligence and inability to provide adequate welfare services to children and their families are primarily responsible for juvenile delinquency. “Denial of fundamental rights like right to school and education, right to dignified life which includes a clean environment, crime-free society, lack of adult supervision and easy availability of drugs etc. are some of the key reasons why children slip into the world of crime,” he says.

NCRB data shows that a majority of such children are in the age group of 16 to 18 years. This can be correlated with the fact that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act guarantees education only up to 14 years of age.

“In most cases, children in conflict with the law are either school drop-outs or come from dysfunctional or broken families. Children, especially adolescents, are highly impressionable; lack of education and parental support negatively affect them,” says Kalpana Purushothaman, a counsellor and a member of Juvenile Justice Board, a state government appointed-body that conducts trials in the juvenile court.

Insufficient funds

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, seeks to rehabilitate and reform children who have or are accused of committing crimes such as murder, attempt to murder, theft, rioting, gambling, assault on women etc. or those in need of care and protection. But its provisions are not being implemented due to the lack of funds and staff. Counselling is an important element in the reformative measures. However, without proper facilities and trained counsellors, providing counselling is a challenge.

“Children in conflict with the law are also children who need care and protection. The legal system is heavily tipped against marginalised groups. We need political commitment to implement the JJ Act and ensure adequate financial allocation towards child protection,” says Swagata Raha, a child rights activist.

Exclusion, isolation and violence lead to more violence. According to Raha, what is required is a fundamental change in how such children are approached. “Our reaction towards children in conflict with the law has been retributive and not reformative. As a society, we need to reflect on discriminatory practices that are pushing some children more than others into a world of crime,” she adds.

Following the Nirbhaya case, the JJ Act was amended to treat children above 16 years, who commit heinous offences, as adults. However, Asthana says there is no evidence of a reduction in crime because of treating them as adults. “Sending children to jails or treating them as adult criminals hardens them and they will continue perpetrating crime,” he says.

No follow-up

Attempting to provide justice without ensuring psychosocial health is futile. Currently, there is no system to follow up with children who get out of a special home, and no data to measure the effectiveness of rehabilitative practices. To plug this gap, a centre was recently set up at the Home in Madiwala. By addressing the psychosocial health of children in conflict with the law, the wellness centre aims to serve as a replicable working model.

“The public needs to be sensitised about the root cause of why children commit crimes. As a community, we must become advocates for such children,” Purushothaman says. After all, it takes a whole village to raise a child.

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