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Updated: February 7, 2013 00:48 IST

Childhood interrupted

Nicole Rangel Menezes
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THE LARGER PICTURE: The state cannot take away childhood, before it creates a protective environment for its children. Photos: Ranjeet Kumar, Akhilesh Kumar
The Hindu THE LARGER PICTURE: The state cannot take away childhood, before it creates a protective environment for its children. Photos: Ranjeet Kumar, Akhilesh Kumar

The case of the juvenile offender in the Delhi gang rape is a wake-up call for investing more in a protection scheme that will stop children from turning to crime

During the 11 years I worked with the emergency helpline service Childline, I have had the opportunity to befriend many children who live on the edge of society. Among them was 11-year-old Arif, who lived with a gang of boys at Bandra railway station in Mumbai. Skinny and very affectionate, the more attention you gave him, the more he needed. Arif’s life ended abruptly. He got hit by a local train while scavenging on the tracks. There was also Ravi, aged 13. Charming, with beautiful brown eyes, he once stole our office keys, planning to return late in the night with a group of children to steal our computers.

Both Arif and Ravi ran away from abusive homes, sniffed glue through the day, and scavenged off the railway tracks for a living. They stood a good chance of taking to a life of crime. We tend to be apathetic to children like them who we see every day, begging on the streets, or selling merchandise at traffic lights.

The Delhi case and crime facts

Recently, one such street child seems to have been part of a gang of six that committed a grave and horrendous crime — the case that has come to be known as the Delhi gang rape. It is being suggested that he was also the most serious offender, though it isn’t quite clear how this opinion has been formed. News channels are claiming that there has been a rise in the number of children under 18 committing heinous crimes. They question if a person who has committed monstrous crimes should really be considered to be a juvenile. Many are clamouring for an amendment to the law to bring down the age for juvenile status from 18 to 16 years and to allow all children in this age group to be tried for serious offences as adults, in contravention of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, which recognises individuals who have not completed 18 years of age as children.

As we form our opinions it may be prudent to consider a few facts. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2011, only 1.1 per cent of all Indian Penal Code crimes were committed by juveniles. Only 4.5 per cent of all crimes committed by juveniles were rape — and only 3.5 per cent of all rapes were committed by juveniles.

Despite Article 39 of the Constitution directing that children should be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth be protected against exploitation, and moral and material abandonment, India’s children are subject to great violence. In a national study on child abuse in 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development found that two out of every three children had been physically abused and most children did not report the matter to anyone; 53.22 per cent of children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; 50 per cent of cases of abuse are by persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.

Justice homes have problems

The systems to safeguard children in India are still severely lacking. It has been three years since the government enacted the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), which aims to set in place child protection services in every district of the country. Preliminary feedback indicates that the scheme is hugely under-resourced, and already lagging in its implementation. An example of this is the shaky condition of juvenile justice homes (funded under the ICPS) whose primary task it is to work on reforming young minds. Most juvenile homes today are fraught with problems which include poor infrastructure, unskilled personnel, and a lack of specialised professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors.

The threshold of 18 years, to determine if a person is a child or an adult, is not accidental. Children are considered incapable of suitably weighing situations and making decisions. Hence, many constitutional rights, such as voting, are withheld from children. A child cannot open a bank account in his own name nor is he given a licence to drive. If children are considered incapable of making informed decisions, by law, by the same logic it becomes necessary to take special measures for their protection.

Another victim

A year ago, the case of two-year-old baby Falak caught the attention of the country. She was abused and brutalised. One of her abusers was a 14-year-old girl who we later learnt was a victim of human trafficking herself. Even then there were murmurs about the lack of protective systems in the country. Falak died after a number of surgeries, the media stopped reporting the story, and we forgot all about the 14-year-old girl. The last we heard of her was that she was placed in a children’s home. At the time, we empathised with the girl. We were able to see her as a victim of circumstances beyond her control.

In the Delhi gang rape case however, it is hard to feel any empathy for the juvenile accused. No one has talked about him as a 10-year-old boy who ran away from home and had to fend for himself in Delhi. We overlook the fact that this boy had no interface with the state; that he fell out of his family, out of his school; that no social worker ever reached him, no child care services ever found him.

It is not being suggested that juvenile criminals must be protected at the cost of justice for the victim. Every criminal must be held accountable, including this juvenile in question. However, if he is tried as an adult, he will most probably be sentenced to an adult prison. While prisons are meant to be reformatory in nature, in practice they seldom are. This juvenile will be released in some years, and, in all likelihood, turn into a hardened criminal. While it is hard to reconcile with the fact that this young person could walk free after three years if tried as a juvenile, doesn’t this country owe him an opportunity for reformation?

Children like Arif, Ravi and the boy involved in the Delhi case have never been offered the chance to aspire for a different life. The state cannot take away childhood, before it creates a protective environment for its children. The need of the hour is for the State to invest in infrastructure, education, awareness, communication, human resource, skills, technology and expertise for child protection. We should settle for no less.

(Nicole Rangel Menezes is a child rights activist and co-founder of Leher, a child protection advocacy organisation.)

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being a juvenile doesnt mean that he wasn't mature enough to rape that girl.It is sarcasstic to keepon debating on the trial for the mere reason that he is a juvenile.If the culprit had been caught for a theft he could have been pardoned;but the heinous crime that he was involved has not only shook the women community the whole human society as well.

from:  vishnu atma
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 23:12 IST

It is actually quite clear why this opinion of the Juvenile being the
most brutal is formed. There is one eyewitness account and then there
is a dying declaration of the deceased. His actions resulted in the
girl's intestine having to be removed, and parts of it being found
'free floating' in her stomach.

It is unfortunate to see the 'Juvenile' being defended on a
technicality and a number. If a person is old enough to rape, he is
old enough to be punished for it.

from:  Priyank
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 18:45 IST

The lacunas in the policy implementation of the successive governments
has only resulted in the steep rise in the number of juvenile
offenders.If the childhood of the children is taken care of properly
in this country then we would not be facing such incidents.

There are always possibility of reforming the offenders but this is
quiet questionable when someone is on the verge of adulthood which is
albeit quiet arbitrary(age of 18) but more or less maturity dawns at
this stage and the convicted juvenile in Delhi gang rape case was
mature enough at the night of the incident.There should not be any
less severe punishment just because he is few months short of
attaining 18.

But, I endorse the author's suggestion of reforming the convicted
juveniles only when they are in early teens.Yes, they are the
responsibility of the society to bring them on track and make them
lead a dignified life with the proper help of the professionals.

They shouldn't be simply discarded .

from:  mohit kumar
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 18:13 IST

No doubt, author has put his understandings & beliefs in a vary clear and logical manner. There is a big loop hole, rather many holes in the basic social amenities & infrastructure. But then question arises, if juveniles don't get proper understanding & development opportunity that lead them to commit crimes like murder and rapes, then the same logic can be applied for the adults. Many adults in this country also are deprived of many amenities which lead them to commit murders & rapes. So, shall we not punish them on this ground? Every criminal may cite his or her own version of apathy in life and reasons for commiting the crime. Law won't be able to punish anybody in that scenario. In my opinion, the nature of crime should be categorized. Murders & Rapes shall be seen as a crime which do need severe punishment be it 16-18 Juvenile or an adult. Child reformation is an entirely different issue. A juvenile of 17+ years has enough sense about the consequences of rape leading to rape.

from:  Sanjeeban Ghosh
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 17:00 IST

This a tragic idea for nation where mention of articles like this one is considered to be very thoughtful. The story of Arif, Ravi and the accused is similar to million other. I sometimes wonder if the number has become so high that it is often better to ignore them. Every traffic post is a symbol of these misery. The hotels which employ kids often happened to be the cheapest and people flock them, but no one ever looks at them. Last year in one of youngest metro, Bangalore there was a huge hue and cry regarding the implementation of RTE.

The problem of the poor children can anytime backlash as problem of the society and sooner we understand this better

from:  Pabitra Martha
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 16:49 IST

The author asks a question "does this country owe him an opportunity for reformation?" She should ask that question to his victim. Oh sorry - that victim is dead. Dead after being brutally attacked in a most inhuman manner.
So, the answer to the question is, No. Reformation is for humans. Unfortunately, some humans turn inhuman, whether because of society or because of some flaw in their mental make-up is not for you and me to debate on. We just need to ensure that society is rid of them as soon as possible. Hence, No. Not reformed. Sometimes a dog goes rabid. Even though you may not want to take a life, it is best for society that you kill that dog. The same needs to be done to this so-called juvenile.

from:  Rajeev Iyer
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 14:52 IST

Invariably, initial emotional reaction clouds our perspective on the real issues.
You are very correct in writing the government must ensure juvenile homes are
equipped and empowered to deal with abused and marginalised children.
Reducing the age threshold from 18 to 16 is not the solution.

from:  Pradeep Varma
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 14:44 IST

It's a very good article.
I believe that a person's life depends upon the environment he leaves in
his childhood. So, a person who does a crime in his childhood, has many
chances of doing the same when he grows up, unless someone changes him.
The present juvenile act should be changed such that it offers a chance
to think for a new life.

from:  Pruthvi
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 14:39 IST

where are the parents? what is their responsiblity to their children and society?

from:  mah
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 14:17 IST

A very thoughtful article. I would also add that when we make "exceptions" we need
to think about the over all ramifications of setting such precedents. I completely
understand the parents of the rape victim gunning for blood, but policy makers
cannot think of just one case. I would be happy to debate whether 18 is indeed too
old a age to call someone a child, but then, as is pointed out here, this should have a
larger implication. A age cut off is by definition arbitrary, with people around it
almost the same. So some one will be hard done whatever the cut off.
The only disagreement I have with the columnist is that if we are to take into account
the circumstances that a deprived child goes through, then why do we stop giving
him/her the same benefit when he/she turns 18. Should we then look at the
childhood history of all criminals? Given that dawn of "maturity", when one can be
truly held responsible, may depend on childhood experiences, can we then ever
convict?

from:  Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 12:55 IST

I totally agree that there is always the person's background which
plays a very important role in his act of crime and fair chance should
be given to juvenile. But don't you think crime like rape should be
treated as an adult crime. How could you trust a guy who has raped a
girl in all his senses will not repeat this and when he was only 6
months behind reaching his adulthood. I think that there should be not
be a a fixed age for all the crimes. There should be panel discussion
with the lawmakers, psychologists and they should decide age factor
according to the crime. I must say VERY NICE ARTICLE !!

from:  Richa Agarwal
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 12:18 IST

Children are curious and quick learner. They try to follow whatever is
happening around them. These juvenile commit crime because they have
seen or experienced such crimes themselves in their childhood. Making
law against juvenile criminals and reducing the age of adult from 18
years to 16 years is just a short term solution, rather children should
be handled with care.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 12:03 IST

Any act committed with felonious intent is a crime that
deserves uttermost punishment. Whether be the
perpetrator a puerile offender or an adult committer,the criminal
offences come under the purview of law-breaking that attract strin-
-gent punishments.In the case of Delhi rape,the accused juvenile
offender is complicit in the heinous crime.

from:  R.Gopalakrishnan.
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 11:43 IST

A good article highlighting the conditions responsible for the crimes done by children. But delhi rape case is a serious exception and the so called children is 17 years old. How can you say that a person who is responsible for a brutal murder and such a conspiracy should be given a chance for reformation. I simply don't understand why educated and experienced people like you sometimes forget that there is something in this world called exception and sometimes we need to think beyond the boundaries of rules to bring a change.

from:  Ishan
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 11:20 IST

Many people, artists, social workers, psychologist, ascertains the
author view that juvenile home are fraught with problems, some claim
that the streets may be relatively safe than these home, even in big
metropolitan cities like Chennai. Every kid is housed in the same
dormitory, from ones who are in for petty theft to serious offense.

These homes are a breeding ground for future offenders

from:  Sreejith Murali
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 10:45 IST

The age for juvenile status should be brought down to 16. Rules need to be ammended with time to be relevant. It is 13 years since the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was enacted. Children now a days are different. We must see what other countries are doing in this regard. If we do not give children below 18 years license to drive they drive without license. Is it not happening with the full knowledge and support of parents? Then for whose sake this law? Threat of punishment can and should act as a detterant. Punishment does not reform all. The victim too have a right and should be recognized.

from:  Ayyappa
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 10:05 IST

I find the justification absurd and very disturbing to see that the writer is asking for another chance that the Country should give the juvenile,though they have commited a such a henious crime.Why should we be afraid of the fact that if he is held with adults he will come out as hardened criminal?

from:  shahid iqbal
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 10:05 IST

A timely apt article which portrays one of the great needs of the hour,to provide opportunities to the homeless and downtrodden children.The trend of children running away from abusive home is on the increase now a days and sadly it seems to be a botheration for none until any serious crime,like the one in Delhi is commited.Everyone in the counrt is so eager to get maximum punishment for the juvenile who involved in the Delhi gang rape case,even me too think the same way because of the horrendous nature of the crime.But it is not the end of everything ie.it is better to find some solution for the crippling problems that ic facing India than going around with the magic wand of punishment.
The run away boys ,no doubt turn into thugs and later on to criminals.Nobody thinks about the oppotunities they are dprived off.If they are given ample opportunities to study and grow,the crime rates can be controlled greatly but unfortunately they are falling into the trap of inescapable exploitation

from:  pallikunnil Divakaran
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 09:31 IST

So long as the government does not successfully implements concrete
integrated schemes preventing juveniles from turning to crimes, the
burden of this state failure need not be borne by innocent victims of
juvenile crimes. Prevention of juvenile delinquency is state's
obligation, and so long as it is not fulfilled the culprit,-even if
a juvenile sufficient enough to deliberately commit a heinous crime
of moral ineptitude,-should be punished.

from:  D.K.Bhatt
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 09:28 IST

I agree that we should create safer and more nurturing environment for children.
However, if a juvenile can rape someone and participate in an egregiously violent
crime against someone without any provocation, that should already throw up
flags that the juvenile is not really a child any more. The point about the juvenile
turning into a hardened criminal if imprisoned is flawed. First, he already is a
hardened criminal if he participates in such brutal acts of violence. Second, is the
author saying that if the perpetrator is sent to a juvenile home, he is not going to
turn into a hardened criminal? I agree with the author's claim that children need to
be offered a protective environment top grow up, but we already missed the bus
with this criminal!

from:  Aroha Bahuguna
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 07:54 IST

With all due respect, I wud like to call the view taken as naive.
It takes a hardened criminal mentality to shove an iron rod into a lady's privates who is begging for mercy and for her life.

Its apalling that such incidents don't get reported often in the media and moreso the statistics like one conviction out of 600 odd rape cases reported in Delhi is a shocker.

It can a lifetime of effort to get a victim out of the trauma.
The very line of effort taken to focus so carefully on the psychological events leading to the incident and finding a reason for the incident is lame.

Such lunatics should be made an example for everyone. Why should there be any effort spent on correcting such people? When the individual was committing the crime he had no consequences in mind. As a just society that puts safety and dignity of an individual as 1st priority, such ppl need to be punished.

Fear of punishment can definitely work as a better deterrant to crime than sympathetic correction

from:  Gaurav
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 04:18 IST

I don't see any problem with the point made by the writer had it been
a case of a bank robbery or a drug racket. But such an egregious act
committed in a most horrendous manner forces one to question what is
the essence of humanity left in such a human being (and i am sure i
can't measure the number of day counts he has had). Being devoid of
materialistic needs might lure an individual to course in the path of
earning money through disproportionate means , but obliterating a soul
and that too in such a way is totally preposterous. This form of
inculcation inside an individual cannot be dis rooted by any child
organization.

from:  Ishan Bhatt
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 03:47 IST

you have got to be kidding me.

"It is not being suggested that juvenile criminals must be protected at the cost of justice for the victim."

That is exactly what this article is attempting to do. How many excuses can I find? (only 3.5% of all rapes are committed by Juveniles. No Social worker found him. No Child Care services found him. Sending the boy to adult prison will make him hardened Criminal. Doesn't this country owe him an opportunity to reform?)

from:  Venkat Pichairaman
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 03:15 IST

if this juvenile is not held accountable, can the commonman send his daughter, wife,
sister out, as it is girls feel that boys get more freedom in indian homes,
Now for a mother, is safety of a family member important, or giving them equal of
opportunity, as a boy is required.

from:  srivani
Posted on: Feb 7, 2013 at 01:48 IST
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