Wasted young lives

Broken families, lack of education, feeling of being neglected, have all contributed to juvenile delinquency. Most of the children fall into the web of crime, pushing their lives into the dark cells of Observation Homes. MAJU SAMUEL takes a look at one of these homes, the conditions, the lives of the inmates and caretakers there.

OF ALL the days in the week, there's one day that Ravi (not his real name) hates - Saturday. It is one day that brings back all the unhappy memories. Of the crime that he committed which landed him behind bars and his life since then.

It is another Saturday. Ravi looks out blankly through the window of the Observation Home at Kakkanad. On this day the Chief Judicial Magistrate will hear his case. The Juvenile Justice Board will complete the formalities and will send this 17-year-old boy to either the borstal school or to a special home.

Every district in the State has a Juvenile Justice Board and Observation Home, where, children below 18 years are kept in remand till their cases are heard by the Board. The institution in Kochi, which is under the Social Welfare Department, has three juvenile inmates now.

"Last month we had 12 juveniles," says the superintendent, which shows the alarming rise in juvenile delinquency. Don't take it as a petty statement, because in earlier years, children were brought here for minor thefts or for loitering along the streets. But today, most of the inmates were apprehended for the second or third attempt to loot a bank and some even for murder. If an analysis is done, to bring to light the reasons behind their dreadful crimes, the accusing finger will be pointed at their parents. Frequent quarrels between the parents deprive these children of proper attention at the most impressionable age. It often resulted in broken relationships and the lives of the children are destroyed in this crossfire.

Another neglected aspect is the education of the children. "If you look into the records of the last 10 years, it will be interesting to note that only two children, both from Hyderabad, had gone beyond ninth standard," observe the authorities of the Observation Home. Bill Gates was a school dropout. So too was the notorious Mumbai underworld Don, Dawood Ibrahim. It is unfortunate that most of these teenagers select the path tread by the latter.

"Some children turn gloomy after reaching here. We have seen some of them inflicting pain on themselves. Some of them thrash their head against the bars of the cell," says a caretaker who requested anonymity. This clearly underlines the need for counselling at these homes.

"They are brought here at a very tender age. Sometimes counselling sessions can help them get back to a normal life," feels P.R. Balachandran, a retired judge now associated with the People's Council For Social Justice.

The Observation Home authorities were open to the suggestions but said they were helpless to provide such facilities, citing lack of funds as the main reason.

There are three caretakers at this home entrusted with charge of taking care of these juveniles. But these people, selected from the Public Service Commission list, were put here without any prior training. "Frankly speaking, I'm really scared to deal with these children," says one caretaker. According to him, every juvenile thinks only on the ways to escape from this place. A couple of months back, a prime accused in a murder case escaped, but was caught at Thrissur and brought back. This ended in a prompt suspension for the caretaker.

Another staff member revealed that his search for a missing kitchen knife ended when he found it hidden under the pillow of one of the inmates. The excuse given by the boy was that he had borrowed it to shape his fingernails.

The caretakers work here in fear; of losing their job if they take long leave, if not, of losing their life if they do work here!

Ever so many seminars and conventions are conducted, where the problems of juvenile delinquency is deliberated hotly

However, the problems still persist. Nothing has changed for these juveniles and their `home.'

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