Mumbai: Rapes by minors are on the rise, according to official data.
Figures on juvenile crimes by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveal that from 2002 to 2012, there has been a 143 per cent increase in the number of rapes by juveniles.
In the same period, figures of murders committed by minors went up by 87 per cent while there has been a whopping 500 per cent increase in the number of kidnappings of women and girls by minors.
However, as shocking as these statistics may be, it is important to remember that over the last five years (2007-2012 ) heinous crimes like rape and murder add up to just about eight per cent of total spectrum of crimes by minors.
72 per cent of the cases against minors between 2007 and 2012 were for theft, burglary and causing hurt.
But do rising crime figures paint the entire picture? Many point out the official data put out is not nuanced, so often cases reported as rapes by minors are consensual love affairs or even instances of exploratory sex.
"Though there has not been a rise in juvenile crime rates as such, there has been an increase in the severity of the crimes committed by juveniles. Also the 17 year olds are aware that they are juveniles and take advantage of the fact saying you cannot take us in for questioning etc", says Mumbai Joint Police commissioner Himanshu Roy of the challenges the police is facing in tackling crimes by minors.
Mr Roy heads the crime branch which is investigating the case of a 23-year-old photojournalist who was gang-raped in Mumbai, in which one accused is a minor.
Some are also of the view that looking at the severity of crimes committed by minors, there is a need to toughen the law against them.
The debate has been sparked off after the juvenile in the December 16 Delhi gang-rape case held guilty for rape and murder was sent to a reform home for three years as punishment. That clearly is not enough says former IPS officer Kiran Bedi.
"There is a need to revisit the juvenile justice act. For heinous crimes like rape it should be left to the judge to decide whether the act committed is committed by a child or not" she points out.
Others like Lawyer and Activist Flavia Agnes disagree. Ms Flavia says that juvenile crime is a reflection of a break down in our society. The onus is on society to rehabilitate the child.
Explaining her stand, she says, "Look at it from the child's point of view. Many of these kids come from single parent homes. Often there is no father, so the kids become school dropouts and their mother is at work whole day trying to make ends meet and what does the child do? They run errands for drug addicts for bootlegging, petty theft, selling stuff procured through theft. This is the training ground. So here we are creating a society of young juvenile prostitutes, young juvenile criminals and saying give them death penalty, give them life imprisonment, give them stringent punishment. Okay, so we punish 10, 20, 100, are we going to have a better society?"
As the debate widens it forces us to ask: is our neglect and society's apathy towards our children one of the main reason they become so deviant?