The increasing number of juvenile accused in cases of heinous crimes should set alarm bells ringing. While the juvenile accused (now convict) in the 16 December rape-cum-murder case in Delhi has been hitting the headlines, a similar incident has come to light in the rape case of a photojournalist in Mumbai. Is the increasing number of juvenile offenders in a way indicator of any social or economic trend?
Human rights lawyer, Vrinda Grover, is of the opinion that the spurt in crime rate among juveniles has to do with the rise in the urban poverty because in most of the cases, the juveniles belong to impoverished families with little education and no employment.
‘There is a need to provide suitable means of livelihood to this sector and government intervention is required,’ says Grover. Her opinion is corroborated by the NCRB data which reveals that around 79 per cent of juvenile offenders in the country hail from families with an annual income of less than Rs 50,000. Approximately 53 per cent of the juvenile offenders are from families with an annual income of less than Rs 25,000. While lack of financial resources is one of the factors that push juveniles into crime, the other important reson is the education system, or rather, the lack of education for these juveniles. According to the NCRB, out of the total number of juvenile accused in various crimes, 7,226 were illiterate and 13,459 had received education up to primary level. These two categories have accounted for 51.9 per cent of the total number of juveniles arrested during the year 2012.
Educationists, however, insist that though providing education is indeed mandatory without a doubt, what is more important is the quality of education that is being imparted in our schools. 'Children understand what is a crime but we need to make them understand about the consequences of committing the crime and that can be done only through proper education,' says Manju Mehra, academic coordinator of Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. Mehra's views are echoed by the president of the Coordination Committee of National Council Of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), Ved Prakash, who says that it is difficult to reform a child when he has reached adolescence and sensitisation process of a child should begin when he is admitted to the school. Also among those who faced Juvenile Justice Boards in 2012, two thirds (66.6 per cent) were aged between 16 and 18 years, according to NCRB data. Prakash's opinion that a reform cannot be done when a child enters teenage is further corraborated by an observation of a principal magistrate of the Justice Juveline Board (JJB). The magistrate on the functioning of probation officers in an order in March 2011 had observed that probation officers, who act as an additional guardian for the juvenile offenders, have failed to perform their duties.
'However, in practice the probation unit working with JJ Board 1 (JJB) is almost dead. No probation officer in any matter has come up with a rehabilitation plan for a child or has given insight to the Board on the needs of any juvenile. The probation unit thus is not doing the work that the Acts expects from and requires it to do and is as such a complete disappointment,' observed the principal magistrate of JJB 1, one of the juvenile courts in New Delhi.
In recent time, after a juvenile has been found guilty of raping and murdering a Delhi girl last year, voices demanding stricter punishment for the accused have emerged. In 2012 alone, 1,175 incidents of rape by juveniles were reported according to the NCRB. However, despite demands for stronger action against juveniles, former IPS officer Amod Kanth who presently runs a NGO is of the view that the issue of juvenile crime is over hyped in the country.
'According to the NCRB, crimes committed by juveniles constituted 1.2 per cent of the total number of crimes reported to police in 2012. Juvenile involvement in overall crimes has been static at 1 per cent during 2002 to 2005, increasing marginally to 1.2 per cent in 2008 and in 2011 it had come down to 1.1 per cent,' says Kanth. The former IPS officer says that the present law is enough to deal with juvenile crime. It is the implementation of the law that needs to be strengthened.