He is not even 12 years old but had been committing one crime after another for a ‘gang leader’ who kept him intoxicated. He was forcibly inebriated - not by alcohol or drugs - but by sniffing whitener, which left him oblivious even to hunger.
Another, merely 14, had been forced into robbery by his mother and brother. Denial on his part to steal, which is a predominant source of their household income, was met with physical abuse.
These children are among nearly 30 boys kept at the Government Observation Home here, pending inquiry into their alleged offences. While this home ought to help juveniles, the ‘victims of socialisation’, it has little to offer for their benefit.
In a glaring contradiction to the Juvenile Justice Act, all children from 11 to 18 years, irrespective of the nature of their alleged offences, are kept together in a single dormitory-like room at the home. While younger juveniles have allegedly committed petty offences like theft, there are older ones at the home accused of rape or murder.
Such grouped housing, psychologists say, can have severe consequences on mental health of the younger children, who are also prone to physical abuse by older juveniles. This is despite the Act mandating ‘separate residential facilities for juveniles up to 12 years, 13 to 15 years and above 16 years’.
Officials informed that at least 95 per cent of the children came from ‘disturbed family backgrounds’. Having witnessed adverse behaviour of their parents, like adultery, they had taken to crime. Ironically, these children are often sent back to those very environs after release.
“Due to the lack of much-needed family counselling facility, little is being done to educate families of juveniles making them vulnerable to committing offences again,” said officials. The crucial de-addiction facility for children too is absent.
“They are supposed to have enough space to play and physically tire themselves so that they sleep peacefully. But that is impossible due to the space crunch,” pointed out officials. The home is also devoid of basic infrastructure and manpower.
There is only one probation officer doubling up as physiologist and counsellor responsible for nearly 30 children. There is no playground, dining hall and or drinking water facility. Officials also stated that the society at large too has a role to play.
“Many children are being thrown out of schools merely on account an accusation. Civil society should stop branding them criminals and give them another chance,” said Durga Prasad, Magistrate of the Juvenile Justice Board, Ranga Reddy. A silver lining is that eight children at the home are currently being trained by National Academy Construction (NAC) with guaranteed placements.