India’s juveniles on the wrong side of the law | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.06.2012
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India’s juveniles on the wrong side of the law

Young Indians are increasingly slipping into criminal ways, according to a government agency report. The reasons are many in varied, but financial inequalities appear to be one key factor driving the trend.

The study shows that such crimes may be committed in a fit of anger, on the spur of moment, for the sake of a thrill or revenge, or even as the imitation of a cinematic stunt.

A 14 year boy studying in an elite school in India's capital city of New Delhi was shot dead by his classmate over an argument. In the southern city of Chennai, a teacher was stabbed to death in the classroom by her 15-year-old student for writing a negative remark on his report card. In another shocking incident, a 16-year-old girl was raped by her classmates in a village of eastern state of Orrisa.

A report by India's National Crime Records Bureau shows that offences committed by minors account for two per cent of the total crimes in India.

While that might not appear high by international standards, the figures do reveal a steady increase in the number of juveniles who get in trouble with the law. And crucially, the official figures represent only a tiny part of a much bigger problem according to Amod Kanth, founder of the NGO Prayas, which works with young criminals.

He believes that India's Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act (JJCP), introduced in 2000, may be responsible for masking the figures.

A cashier counts Indian rupee bank notes

Those whose families have money often escape facing justice

"The seriousness of juvenile crime was never considered, but with rise in such incidents it is being talked about," says Kanth. "Under JJCP act the police can decide whether to register a report for a crime with less than seven years of punishment. To keep the crime figure low they do not register many such crimes and deal with them unofficially. So the real numbers of juvenile crimes remain unregistered."

'Gripped by consumerism'

Glaring discrepancies in the way that the rich and poor are treated are a large part of the problem, according to Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, co-director of the HAQ Center for Child Rights.

"It is the widening rich-poor divide that creates discontentment amongst children," says Thukral. "They are blind-folded with the desire for a lavish lifestyle, are gripped by consumerism and materialistic wants and peer pressure. The urge to attain these make them resort to criminal and violent means."

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 40 percent of crimes that can be taken to court under the Indian Penal Code are committed by juveniles are financially motivated. That is about 10 percent more as compared to the percentage of the same crime committed by adult criminals. After economic crimes, 8.5 percent juveniles were apprehended for pubic order offences, 3.1 percent for murder, 1.8 percent for rape, and 1.4 percent for kidnapping and abduction

A boy, who refused to be identified, carries food to his family working at a garbage dump

Children from the poorest backgrounds are likely to be dealt with more harshly

For children from the poor strata of the society, illiteracy and poverty remain the root cause for this problem. Statistics reveal that it is not only the street children who take to crime but even children from well-off middle class and upper middle class families.

Statistics tell a tale

According to NCRB's statistics, 27 percent of the arrested juveniles were illiterate, 72 percent of them are families below poverty line, 6.8 percent are from middle income group and 0.2 percent is from high income group.

This does not necessarily mean that juveniles from higher income groups do not transgress, in Thukral's experience. While the poor are the ones most likely to be apprehended and face the stringent legal action, she says, the rich tend to get away with their offences.

For Kanth, there is a need for young people to consider the law as an effective deterrent for all, with too many examples where justice is not seen to be done.

"Our law and order is also at fault," he said. "The hard core criminals who are set free by the law make the children think that even they can do it and get away with any crime."

Author: Tanushree Sharma Sandhu
Editor: Richard Connor

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