Just days after they forced the private guards out, set ablaze the beddings and office records, and vandalised the entire observation home in Majnu ka Tila, some errant juveniles were shifted to another home in Mukherjee Nagar, where to the surprise of many, they had a blast playing a cricket match like a well-behaved team.
What transpired within a few days causing a sea change in their demeanour and what stopped them from indulging in violence this time round?
“The same group of boys had become a big menace to the residents of Majnu ka Tila. They smashed the glass windows of nearby houses, threw stones at passers-by and made indecent gestures at girls living in the neighbourhood. However they have not displayed any signs of aggression since they were shifted to Sewa Kutir. This calls for a deep analysis for identification of the aggravating and mitigating factors, which is essential for reformation and rehabilitation of the juveniles in conflict with the law, which is the objective of the Juvenile Justice Act,” said a home official.
Stakeholders say violence in observation homes has become frequent lately.
“On several occasions, juveniles have fled from homes, set afire articles, broken closed-circuit television cameras and misbehaved with counsellors and the home staff. At the Sewa Kutir in Mujherjee Nagar, the juveniles once broke the computers installed for their training. A few years ago, the authorities at Majnu ka Tila got home guards removed and deployed private guards hoping things would improve. But, nothing changed,” said another official.
Conceding that the issue requires urgent attention, Delhi Minister for Women and Child Development Kiran Walia, said: “We accept that there is need for a serious re-look at the various problems in the homes and measures are being taken to ensure that these incidents are not repeated.”
Arguing that the State machinery had completely failed to deliver on this front, Raaj Mangal Prasad of non-government organisation Pratidhi said: “The situation is deteriorating with each passing day despite close supervision at every level. We have a Juvenile Justice Committee set up by the Delhi High Court, under which a supervision committee has also been instituted for monitoring. However, recent developments have warranted a serious examination and review of the Juvenile Justice Act provisions vis-à-vis children aged between 16 and 18 years.”
Mr. Prasad said there was an emerging feeling among a large section of stakeholders that this age group need to be given a different treatment. Also, maintaining a minimum degree of discipline in observation homes was a big challenge.
“Age-wise segregation within an institution is neither practicable nor ‘cost-effective’ for the government. However, this issue cannot be ignored and identification/segregation of children requiring specialised intervention should be done at any cost. Also, the entire stress of the government apparatus today is on reformation/rehabilitation than prevention. Although programmes like child protection scheme have been floated, they are not proving effective due to lack of focus, infrastructure and qualified manpower,” he added.
Experts say the biggest challenge before the institutions is how to reintegrate these children with the social mainstream, especially when most of them come from a fractured environment.
“Almost all are from poor economic background. While some are orphans, many have single parents and then there are also those who are ill-treated by their own. Several get addicted to drugs and alcohol. They have been accused of committing murders, robberies, chain snatching, burglaries and thefts,” said the official.
A complete breakdown in healthy communication with their families is cited as one of the major factors behind their violent behaviour inside observation homes.
“Although the boys are allowed to meet their parents once a week, there should a mechanism to facilitate telephonic conversations between them and their family whenever they feel depressed,” said a counsellor on condition of anonymity.
Home officials also advocate introduction of productive training programmes for the juveniles. “Instead of running cooking or stitching classes, they should be engaged in more creative and fruitful activities like computer education and technical training. It is more important to treat them with affection and instil a positive attitude towards life in them. They need to be so well-equipped that once they step out they are ready to face the challenges ahead of them,” said another home official.