The involvement of juvenile delinquents or youngsters under 18 years of age is growing at an alarming pace. What is worse, the laws in place are insufficient to deal with the situation. This has been a reason for growing resentment and even frustration in civil society.

During 2011, juveniles were involved in 37 murders, 24 attempt to murders, 47 rapes and 30 cases of kidnapping and abduction in the Capital. Clearly it is not only a matter of innocence lost but reflects a dangerous trend. As per the ‘Crime in India 2011’ report of the National Crime Records Bureau, at an all-India level too the registered crime involving juveniles has increased from 16,509 in 2001 to 25,125 in 2011 and in respect of the percentage of total cognizable offence too their involvement has increased from 0.9 per cent to 1.1 per cent during this period.

The tendency of children to take to crime has also increased and in 2011 as many as 2.1 per cent crime was committed by children as against 1.6 per cent a decade ago.

While the involvement of girls in juvenile crimes involving both Indian Penal Code sections and Special and Local Laws (SLL) has decreased from 6.9 per cent to 5.8 per cent, the increased involvement of boys is a cause of concern; in particular when their involvement in registered sex crimes like rape has increased sharply from 399 to 858 cases in the past decade.

What is also worrisome is that due to increased information flow through print, electronic and social media, a word has spread that those under 18 are not tried under the normal laws and can literally get away with murder.

According to Amod Kanth, founder of non-government organisation Prayas, which runs several observation and care homes for children, it has come to light through recent scrutiny of records that over 60-65 per cent of crimes by juveniles are committed by those between 15 and 18 years of age. “That is an issue. But we need to connect to them. Aftercare programmes are also important. When children are released from Homes, there is a need to maintain a watch on them for rehabilitation and reformation.”

Mr. Kanth said it has come to light that in most cases of “recidivism” or repeat offences the juvenile offenders do not appear to be taking advantage of the age factor. “They often go back to crime simply because they return to the same social set-up.”

As per NCRB data, of the 942 juveniles booked for IPC and SLL offences in 2011, as many as 205 were old delinquents or repeat offenders.

The statistics confirm that economic factors play a major role in the involvement of these children in crime. The economic classification of these children had revealed that only 49 or about 5 per cent of them came from families with an annual family income of over Rs.1 lakh.

Similarly, most of the children involved in crimes in Delhi were found to be either illiterate (over 20 per cent) and only 10 per cent had done matriculation or higher studies.

Nearly 80 per cent of all these delinquents were found to be staying with their parents; about 13 per cent with guardians; while the rest 7 per cent were homeless.

Mr. Kanth, who retired as Director General of Police, insists that often the police are also to blame for not treating crime committed by juveniles properly. “They should register cases to know if the offenders have been misbehaving in the past, have been involved in rape and murder cases, have a history of sexual truancy. How will they reform and take corrective measures without even registering serious offences,” he said.

While “FIRs cannot be registered against children”, Mr. Kanth said, “Daily diary entries can be maintained as per law.” He added: “I once wrote to a former Delhi Police Commissioner that gangs of children, which could be numbering in thousands, may be there. This is a serious problem.”

Citing the case of Sonu, who was involved in a number of “burgle and burn” cases in South Delhi, Mr. Kanth said it has come to his notice that at one point there were over 20 members in his gang. “Almost all those involved in such burglaries had adopted the strategy to destroy evidence.”

In India, he said, about 1.5 to 2 per cent of the total crimes are committed by juveniles while the population of children below 18 years is 42 per cent of the total population. “So in proportion the crime committed by others is much more. But this is going to be a problem in future as the incidence of such crime is growing. This is disturbing the societal equilibrium. However, with proper measures, we can deal with juvenile crime.”

As for solution to the problem, he said, in Delhi there would be about 500 juvenile delinquents. “They are spread over various police stations and so in each police station a list of four or five such children can be drawn up to identify and interact with them on a regular basis so that they do not return to crime,” Mr. Kanth suggested.

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