Child offenders are assigned community service as punishment and put on traffic duty or asked to assist in hospitals

Next time one finds an under-aged boy manning the traffic near an important junction, one need not feel indignant about employment of child labour by the Traffic Police. The boy could just be performing his bit of community service for a petty offence he has committed.

Awarding community service as a punishment has been an exception rather than norm so far, even in case of adult convicts. However, the exception is being adopted as a norm by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) of the Ranga Reddy District, which has issued quite a few community service orders in the last one year.

Over the past eight months, the board has issued nearly 20 community service orders to juvenile offenders or ‘children in conflict with law’ as defined by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.

All these children were involved in petty offences such as small-time thefts or street fracas, and it was felt that community service could prove more useful for them than being sent to special homes, said D. Durga Prasad, Chairperson of the Board and Second Metropolitan Magistrate, RR District Court. However, the option is not given to children involved in more serious offences such as murder.

Apart from traffic duty, the other most awarded instance of community service is to assist in hospitals. Usually, the children are asked to offer service for an hour every evening, so that it would not affect their daytime routine.

District Probation Officer under the Board, who records the antecedents of the child offender, will do the follow-up to ensure that he or she is attending the service awarded regularly.

While the Act lists community service as one among the actions that may be taken against child offenders, it is not awarded very frequently. Instead, the children are either sent off after reprimanding, or sent to special homes till they attain adulthood, that is, 18 years of age.

“Most often, we leave the children after admonishing them, as most of them are found to be studying in college, and any punishment would be detrimental to their career,” Mr. Durga Prasad said. However, community service is found to bring positive change among the children, he added, and recalled that the first person to be awarded community service in the district, a boy, was eventually employed on regular rolls of the hospital upon turning 18.