In 2012, almost 28,000 juveniles in India were found to be involved in crimes. What is the likely profile of a youngster taking to crime and what are its causes? That was the theme of a recent study conducted by a centre for juvenile justice in collaboration with UNICEF and Karnataka government.
The horrific Delhi gang-rape and murder in December 2012 led to widespread debate over whether the youngest of the six attackers, who was 17 at the time of the crime, got away lightly because of his age. The incident brought juveniles offenders in sharp focus.
The study, conducted by an organisation called ECHO, examined 2500 cases of juvenile crimes from six districts in Karnataka along with 50 case studies of juvenile offenders. They found that 73% of juvenile crimes were committed by those between 16 and 18 years of age; the age group accounted for 90% of the serious crimes.
The study also found that 94 per cent juveniles had inadequate parental care, largely due to unavailability of their parents who worked as daily wage labourers, small-scale entrepreneurs or farmers.
Also, 80 per cent juveniles were first-time offenders while 73 per cent of them were accused of non-serious offences. The study quotes data from 2010 which shows that of the over 27,000 juveniles apprehended across India, less than 6 per cent were girls.
The study also found police and observation home staff to be the most insensitive to the needs of juvenile offenders. Qualitative data from the study showed that juveniles who took part in community service in reform homes reintegrated better into the society than others.
Clifton, one of the reformed boys, spoke to NDTV. "I was in an observation home for over three months. I made some mistakes. After my release, I joined ECHO. Now I have joined Traffic Police as an assistant. I also got a certificate from the police," he said.
The report recommends addressing issues as diverse as suggesting interventions for inadequate education or parental care to sensitivity in training for child protection and law enforcement professionals.
Releasing the report, Karnataka's Director General of Police, Lalrokhuma Pachuau, said juvenility is a delicate period in one's life. "He is on the way of becoming an adult. There are a lot of mental, psychological and physiological changes in the body. At this stage, he may pick up bad habits and then tend to violate law. Ultimately, some of them might even become hardened criminals," he said.
The report - which carries the quote 'To him we cannot answer 'tomorrow'. His name is 'today' - highlights that a better understanding of what causes juvenile crimes would help tackle the issue more effectively.