Ten months ago,a teenage boy from Mumbai suburbs came before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) at Dongri to narrate the spine-chilling sexual violence he was subjected to by his tormenter,also a juvenile. The victim was subjected to sustained violence for months. His testimony nailed the offender,who was sent by the JJB to the observation home for rehabilitation for a maximum period of three years as prescribed under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act. In July,the victim again walked into the JJB,but this time as an offender. He is accused of raping his six-year old neighbour.
Once a victim,now a tormentor. This is just one of the many cases that the JJB deals with on regular basis.
According to child rights activists and JJB members,in most if not all the cases,the children in conflict with law have suffered a similar fate. It is as if the child is only copying what was done to him. The society normalises brutal attack on children,and when the child turns around to do the same,we cry hoarse, says Mary Arokia from YUVA,who has over the past decade worked closely with the homeless youth and now is a member of the Juvenile Justice Board.
The board,constituted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act,looks at the cases of children in conflict with law. For care and protection,the children are referred to the Child Welfare Committee. Both,the board and the committee work in tandem and operate out of the Dongri Childrens Home in Mumbai.
In 2012,as many as 2,730 cases of serious offences were registered against juveniles,including heinous crimes such as murder and rape. The data collated by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) reveals that the figure is just 10 per cent of the total 27,936 cases registered against the juveniles. This is a mere 1.2 per cent of the total crimes (23,87,188) committed in the country. And of this,approximately 10 per cent are involved in serious offences, says Asha Mukundan,assistant professor,Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and a director of a project Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice. This is also a reason why experts feel that the age under the Juvenile Justice Act cannot be lowered.
Mukundan,who studied over 6,000 files of juvenile cases disposed of between 2007 and 2008 and compiled a report in 2008,concludes that not all serious offences should be looked at as one. For instance,her detailed research on the justice delivery system in the state found that in most cases children were booked for rape when they were in love with a minor girl. Cases were registered against children just because the girl happened to be a minor and the children were involved sexually. Now these cases,although very high in numbers,cannot be classified as rape. Same applies for abduction cases too, she says. While the girl child continues to stay with her family,young boys are sent to the JJB. We cannot even imagine the repercussion of lowering the age in such cases, she adds.
Involvement of children in crimes is also a reflection of the sort of role models the society has created for them,feels Anjali Gokarn,a former member of the Child Welfare Committee. Most children are exposed to horrible living conditions,with very little protection. When a child is constantly subjected to such violence,he is only going to grasp it as a norm and not as an aberration, Gokarn says.
The number of cases of violence against children emotional,mental,physical or sexual – is alarming. When compared with the children in conflict with law,crime against children has seen a steep rise.
According to NCRB data,of the total 33,538 reported cases in the country in 2012,nearly nine per cent or 3,456 were registered in Maharashtra. This is almost 1,000 cases more than that registered in 2008. According to a government study conducted in 2007,as many as 12,500 children interviewed from 13 different states spoke of serious and widespread sexual abuse. Maximum number of cases related to abuse by relatives at home,by people in their neighbourhoods,at school,and in residential facilities for orphans and other at-risk children. The survey also revealed that in only 25 per cent of these cases,children could muster courage to confide in someone. And a mere three per cent of these cases were reported to the police.
The then minister of Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury had called this problem as one that is shrouded in secrecy and there is a conspiracy of silence around the entire subject.
At a panel discussion about sexual offences earlier this year,sexologist Dr Rajan Bhosale had narrated the plight of a young boy he had counselled in the course of his work. The school-going boy was molested by the lift man of his building for several months before the matter came to light. The boy used to stay on the 11th floor of his building and would be dropped to school by car. Every day,during the lift ride from the 11th floor to the ground floor,the lift-man would molest the boy. He could not report it to his parents simply because he did not know how to describe it, Dr Bhosale recalled.
While the first biggest challenge is to get children to speak,the next hurdle arises in the court. If the offender is a relative or known to the victim,proving such cases becomes a problem. It gets tough to have a relative depose when both the accused and the victim are known to the witness, says lawyer Persis Sidhwa,who works with the womens organisation Majlis.
For instance,in August,a sessions court in Mumbai had convicted a 33-year-old man for 10 years for raping his minor sister-in-law. While his wife,also the victims sister,showed immense courage and stood by the victim,she developed cold feet at the time of the trial. The sister had approached the victim at the shelter home coaxing her to take the case back, Sidhwa said.
While not every victim turns to crime,those who do are as much in need of care and protection as the victims themselves,Arokia says. Most non- government organisations focus on the victims rehabilitation,but very little is done to address the child-in-conflicts rehabilitation, Mukundan says. This is not to negate the victims plight,she clarifies.
The population that engages in crime has its learning mostly from adults. According to Mukundans study,many offenders worked as accomplices to the adult accused. A certain role is played by a child in a larger crime, she points out. Her findings were also sent to the Justice Verma Commission last December.
Last year,a new legislation,Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (PoCSoA),was introduced to exclusively deal with the cases relating to sexual offences against children. The same law is also applicable for juvenile offenders. The Juvenile Justice Act is very clear and has covered a wide and varied range of crimes under it. However,police still insist in using these stringent laws against juveniles, rues Arokia.
Further,she points out that in most cases,children from slums,who do not have an agency to approach,are picked up by the police. Instances of children produced before the JJB for seven-eight times is not uncommon,Arokia adds.
At different times,the JJB has adopted novel ways to involve the children in different activities. Of all the children referred to the JJB,only a small percentage is sent to special homes. That also explains why Maharashtra has only two observation homes – in Mumbai and Pune, Arokia says.
On assessing the cases,the JJB generally decides to release the children under the supervision of a probation officer. The idea is to bring these children back into the society as productive citizens, says Mukundan,whose cell supervises nearly 40 juveniles every year.
(with inputs from Gautam Mengle)
CRIME AGAINST CHILDREN
All India: 38,172 (2012)
total cases filed in Maharashtra: 3,456 (2012)
Serious offences Cases
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Murder 178 182 214 204 212
Rape 690 612 747 818 917
Kidnapping 595 534 749 858 893
to suicide 3 13 16 12 13
abandonment274 274 198 189 199
Foeticide 2 17 5 12 22
Unit-wise percentage of offences against children
in Maharashtra in 2012
Mumbai 15 %
Pune city 8%
Pune rural 5%
Figures of serious offences registered in Mumbai
(of the total 517 cases) in 2012
Murder 18 Rape 141 Kidnapping and Abduction 142
CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH LAW
NATIONAL FIGURE State figure
Year Juvenile crimes Year Juvenile crimes
2002 18,560 2002 3,128
2003 17,819 2003 3,246
2004 19,229 2004 3,651
2005 18,939 2005 4,216
2006 21,088 2006 4,249
2007 22,865 2007 4,499
2008 24,535 2008 4,597
2009 23,926 2009 4,622
2010 22,7 2010 4,315
2011 25,125 2011 4,775
2012 27,936 2012 4,570
Crime head-wise percentage distribution of juvenile in conflict with law in the state in 2012
Attempt to murder 3%
Hurt/ grevious hurt 23%
Total cases registered against juveniles in Mumbai in 2012 56
Different crimes involving juveniles in 2012 in Mumbai
Murder 16 Attempt to murder 17 rape 11 kidnapping and abduction 17 others 7