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Asia

Opinion: India's Youth - A blessing or a curse?

The first of five suspects on trial over the fatal gang rape of a student in Delhi has been found guilty. DW's Priya Esselborn writes India might face bigger problems if it fails to provide a future to its youth.

For weeks, people across India protested the deadly rape that took place last December in the Indian capital. They staged candlelight vigils and demanded radical change. But, so far, those demands have only been partially met. Brutal rapes of women and young girls keep making headlines and female fetuses are still being aborted - that's how little women are worth. Hasn't India learned anything? That's the question many people are asking themselves.

Priya Esselborn is the head of the Hidi deparment at DW (Photo: DW)

Priya Esselborn is the head of DW' Hidi deparment

These crimes bring to light all the evils the self-confident Indian nation is suffering from and tries to conceal. They include horrific contempt for women from all strata of society, corruption, abuse of power, a lethargic political elite and a justice system with plenty of loopholes, some of which the then 17-year-old rape offender used to his advantage. The verdict in the trial was deferred a number of times due to legal technicalities.

But, unlike the four adult suspects - who face life in prison or death if found guilty - the convicted fifth offender will only serve a maximum of 3 years in a correctional facility, including the time he has already spent in prison, despite the fact that the victim died from her injuries two weeks after the attack.

And yet it hasn't even been confirmed that the young man was actually 17 years old at the time of the crime. There are no reliable birth registers in a country with 1.2 billion people and you can have any certificate forged for just a few hundred rupees (a couple of dollars). Furthermore, India's correctional facilities are hopelessly overfilled with juvenile felons. The institutions lack skilled employees, funds and a sustainable concept. The recidivism rate is high.

Demographic advantage?

The time bomb is ticking. India has a very young population and according to a UN study, it will have the world's youngest by the year 2020, with an average age of only 29 years.

But the demographic blessing can quickly become a curse if the leadership fails to provide its youth with school education and future prospects and the gap between the country's rich and poor widens.

Indian media has repeatedly told the tragic story of the convicted young man, described by the victim's surviving partner as a demon and the cruelest of the attackers. The rapist is the youngest of six children from a poor family which apparently had neither time nor affection for him.

He left home without a school education at the age of 11: the classic vicious circle. the young man belongs to the two-thirds of the population who don't profit from India's economic boom. Hopeless and frustrated, they are excluded from the amenities enjoyed by the middle class. Perhaps he was envious of the young woman walking alongside her partner on the way back from the cinema. She was able to study, enjoy her life and had a future. "He wanted to teach her a lesson," some of the accused said. But under the influence of drugs and alcohol, two companions of India's outcasts, the deed took its horrific and inexcusable course.

And the crime data compiled by government doesn't bode well. Between 2006 and 2010, more than 700 murders were committed by juveniles. But that number jumped to 888 just one year later, an increase of almost 31 percent. It is up to India, its political leaders and its people to tackle this problem and show that the death of this young woman wasn't in vain.