A study report compiled after interviewing 182 inmates in Delhi’s juvenile homes reveals that for majority of them there was no premeditated reason for committing an offence. “The motive or intent of the adolescents is not same as that of the adults. The intent of adolescents is mostly driven by their unique development stage and characteristics,” states the report titled ‘Why Children Commit Offences’ released by Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) in June.
Out of the 182 children under study, in 17.3 per cent of the cases it was unintentional provocation that resulted in the commission of the offence, while 2.2 per cent were involved in offending acts in the process of self-defence. In 13.7 per cent cases, it could be false accusations that caused their detention, according to the study.
“In all other cases it was the age-specific behavior, impulsiveness, curiosity/exploration and adventurism that drifted them to deviance. Revenge as the motive was suggested by 5.5 per cent and all of these were mostly related to gang rivalry,” states the report. Of these children, 70.3 per cent were not aware of the consequences of committing an offence.
Of the 182 children, 75 were convicted of crimes such as theft, snatching and robbery; 31 of murder; 29 of dacoity; and 21 of rape. One juvenile was held for rape and murder. The study, however, states of the 21 rape cases, 11 were either of consensual sex or false accusation by parents of girls who did not consent to such relationship.
The study suggests restorative measures are needed more than harsh punishment to deal with juvenile delinquency. “It can be concluded that though children/juveniles involve in heinous crimes, they should be treated differently taking into consideration their capacity for amelioration and rehabilitation with appropriate interventions. Punishments such as imprisonment and the death penalty have rarely shown the anticipated results of serving as deterrent. The study shows that children/adolescents engagement with offences is mostly due to the characteristics of the adolescent period which is marked by a spurt of cognitive, emotional, physical and sexual development.”
According to the study, 53 of these children had studied up to Class V, while 44 had upper primary education up to Class VIII. While 38 children had no formal education, 30 had studied till high school and 17 had higher secondary education. Fathers of 100 children and mothers of 129 had no formal education.
“Among those involved in heinous offences of murder and rape, 48.4 per cent and 70.8 per cent of the children, respectively, were deprived of proper housing. Deprivation of land and a house threw many of the children and their families on to the streets making them vulnerable to various risks. Lack of opportunity and inequality, therefore, could be factors for pushing a child into delinquency and crime,” the report states.
It adds, “A correlation with the nature of the offences showed that out of the 49 children involved in heinous offences 34 were working in various places along with adults. Children who join the work force are more vulnerable since they are in an adult world and can be easily influenced by adults into risk taking behavior.”
The DCPCR has concluded a lot remains to be desired in the juvenile justice system, including measures for reform and treatment of juvenile offenders.
While efforts have been concentrated on preventing the escape of juveniles from the juvenile homes in Delhi, little has been done to assess their needs, the DCPCR has said.
“One of the basic but most significant components lacking in all observation homes/special homes and place of safety is the provision of welfare services to children. There is an absence of adequate assessment of children — their problems and needs. Hence, the primary effort should be a proper assessment of their aspirations and requirements and based on such assessment make appropriate interventions in a tailored manner,” says the report.
Suggesting a slew of changes in the juvenile justice system, the report says children gave accounts of assault by police at the time of arrest. “A mechanism should be in place to check that no police personnel handcuff, physically abuse or keep a child apprehended on charges or suspicion of having committed an offence for more than 24 hours,” says the 70-page report.
It also suggests that juvenile homes must maintain, update and consolidate data on children who have gone through observation home and special homes and their current status to track their involvement in deviance.