Seated in a circle, eight boys discuss the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, on awareness of their actions and impulse control. While this could be true for any group of teenagers, this discussion is being held at the Child Guidance Clinic of the Dongri Observation Home.
The boys are children in conflict with the law — boys booked in alleged cases of sexual abuse. The discussion is part of a group counseling session initiated by the Juvenile Justice Board in Mumbai, headed by Principal Magistrate Gauri Jadhav.
While the Juvenile Justice Act has provisions for group counselling, it is not often that such sessions are organised at the pending-inquiry stage for the youngsters, experts said. The Mumbai Board gave its go-ahead to the plan after various stakeholders, including the socio-legal project Resource Cell for Juvenile Justice, felt the need for it to address issues faced by adolescents in custody.
“We conduct one-on-one sessions with the children, but have initiated group counselling for the first time in Mumbai. The idea is that children, when in a group of people having gone through similar experiences, feel they are not alone. On an individual basis, they may have a defence to deal with what is being told to them. In a group, we feel that the guard is down and hearing others share their experiences gives them a space to vent,” said Dr. Shrirang Joshi, visiting psychiatrist, CGC Dongri, who led the session. He says that while the criminal justice system has two sides, the victim and the accused, some intervention for the offenders is also significant.
The sessions, held in three parts, also involve the parents of the children, counselled separately. “We usually put questions in a simple manner to the teenagers, to make them distinguish between the choices they have made. The focus is on looking at them in terms of their future, as teenagers are very receptive,” he said.
The recently amended Juvenile Justice Act prescribes preliminary assessment of those children between 16-18 years who have been apprehended for heinous offences, to determine whether they can be tried as adults. While sexual abuse cases too fall in this category, those working with children in conflict with the law feel rehabilitation is an important factor for the group.
“Everyone keeps scaring us about the case and how it will ruin my son’s life forever. This was the first time we heard others in the same situation. My son and I have never discussed the case in detail but he keeps assuring me that once he comes out, he will focus on his studies. I will help him in all ways possible once he is out,” said the mother of one of the eight boys.
The single mother, whose son has been inside the Home for over six months, also participated in the session.