It's a common sight to eight-year-olds being shown how to dry laundry by 18-year-olds in the Government Home for Boys, off Hosur Road, here. Similarly, a 10-year-old is taught the intricacies of carom by a 15-year-old in the Government Observation Home in Madiwala.
When The Hindu visited the facilities, 64 children aged between eight and 18 were housed at the Boys' Home. In the Observation Home, there were 19 children, aged between 10 and 18.
However, mixing children of different age groups is in violation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Karnataka Rules 2010, which specifies segregation of children based on age, in the interest of the children's psychological health.
Such mixing results in the younger children getting “influenced” by the older children, says B. Madhukar, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, St. Martha's Hospital. Though this has positive and negative aspects, the “negative aspect tends to dominate”.
“More often than not, in institutes having children of all ages, the younger ones could get influenced into drinking and smoking, and … in their sexual behaviour,” he explained. Considering bullying and exclusion, the consequences of not being accepted in a peer group could lead to the child becoming withdrawn and scared of the outside world,” Dr. Madhukar said. The Boys' Home, the children sleep in common rooms, violates the Act under Section 32(4), which says, “Children in the age group of 10-18 shall be further segregated into two groups of 10-15 and 15-18 and housed in unconnected buildings, each with its own administration.”
Though boys in the Observation Home sleep in two rooms based on their age (10 to 15 in one room, and 16 to 18 in the other), the place still violates Section 14(1) which dictates that there should be “separate residential facilities for juveniles (both boys and girls) in accordance with the degree of offence and age preferably up to 12, 12-16 and 16 and above.”
However, wardens at the Boys' Home insist that older children, selected as “role models”, can guide the younger ones through the process of reformation. Here, four inmates aged between 15 and 17 were used by the wardens to “control and guide” the younger children.
For example, Hemant Kumar and Harish, both 17, spend time preparing for their Class 10 examinations as well as volunteer with the traffic department. They also mediate in fights between children, and alert the warden if anyone was indulging in a prohibited activity.
“We set schedules for the children to watch television instead of fighting over it,” said Hemant Kumar.