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India and the case for juvenile delinquency

Katherine By Katherine Abraham
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India and the case for juvenile delinquency

“An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to children alleged and found to be in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection by catering to their basic needs through proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration, by adopting a child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children and for their rehabilitation through processes provided, and institutions and bodies established, hereinunder and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”

These are the opening lines of The Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection Of Children) Act, 2015. On careful study, one will see the that apart from highlighting the fundamental definition of the term “Juvenile” the act aims at providing proper care, protection, development, treatment and most importantly social re-integration. The Act also claims to be [at least principally] in conformity with the international standards, taking into consideration the standards prescribed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, 1985 (the Beijing Rules), the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (1990), the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption (1993). The problem begins with the matter ending in black and white.

All the aforementioned principles and aims seek to serve as a reminder that children in conflict with the law are not only in need of care and protection they need a significant amount of help bringing them back into the social fold. In the Preliminary understanding to the Act, we go a step further where the act states (9) “best interest of child” means the basis for any decision taken regarding the child, to ensure fulfilment of his basic rights and needs, identity, social well-being and physical, emotional and intellectual development;

The deplorable conditions of the Juveniles, in reality, seek to tell a different tale. Visit the Nehru Kendra Udyog in Pune for instance (the local correctional facility) and one is appalled at the condition in which these minor delinquents are surviving. The place is humongous, which is clearly a reason to build a rehabilitation home which can work to the advantage of the detainees but all that one can see is a few cement structures, lackadaisical authorities and nothing of consequence.

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Speaking of Medical attention, a friend and I visited the place some months ago and while we were being shown around she hurt her toe and ended up with a broken nail. I rushed her to the dismal Medical room that we had just seen and the female help there lamented that she would have to open a new tube of Soframycin. I was surprised that she wasn’t aware that one needed cotton and Dettol as a basic first aid, not a tube that took care of skin infections (later we realised, at least there was something). On further questioning, we were informed that the bottle of antiseptic was over. We asked her how the juveniles managed. Her surreptitious silence spoke volumes.

A brief rendezvous with the juveniles told us that not only were they starved for attention and care mentioned in the legislation pertaining to their welfare, they have clearly been deprived of the very basics. The amenities provided include terribly worn out mattress, a space to perform their timetabled activities and a big hall which seemed to be cleaned just before any visitors could arrive. The place was a pathetic miniature semblance of a prison without really bearing the name. On the periphery, wild pigs made their way to the grass adding to an already painful sight.

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The question that arises is, Do we as a society then have the right to question why juvenile recidivism is increasing?

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), recorded a 5.93% rise in cases of juveniles in conflict with the law in Maharashtra in 2015, while the figures were down by 6.3% in the rest of India. Ragini Bhuyan stated in her article, Given the widespread variation in expenditure, how you are treated may simply depend on which part of India you are in.

It must be mentioned here that some of these young people show no remorse at what they have done instead stating that they would return shortly after being released because no one would give them even an odd job and many of their families already had too many mouths to feed. One less was just a minor blessing. To quote Psychiatrist Harish Shetty from Mumbai, “Maharashtra is in deep psycho-social chaos, and a disparity between people in terms of income is increasing. A firm administration is required to take care of marginalised people and more jobs need to be created for the poor. A lot of social activism is required too.”

Reflect on the last line of the comment and one realises that the disparaging social majority requires the society’s  attention. The numbers are too high to call the underprivileged a minority in this country. It’s time citizens also contributed to the welfare of these young people who if left to fend for themselves may not be able to live a normal life again, or worse, they may resort to a life of crime as their source of living. I would go a step further and add to Harish Shetty’s thought and say it’s not just Maharashtra, many other parts of India too are in psycho-social chaos.

Providing the juveniles with adequate rehabilitation facilities can become a reality if stakeholders in the private sectors decide to invest a small share of their CSRs in the building of homes where these young people will not only receive the necessary care that is mentioned in a legislative document, we as a society can look at working for the welfare of these fledglings and hope for their social re-integration in the right sense of the term. Unfortunately, not many are aware of the appalling conditions of these correctional facilities. The media don’t find this social albatross appealing enough unless there is another Nirbhaya.

“Officers are overworked and untrained and often resort to shortcuts to run these places,” was Anant Kumar Asthana’s (a lawyer who specialises in juvenile justice) comment to the New York Times. Not much seems to have improved in the subsequent years.

Since the problems are in our face the question is how can we help these troubled young people in a positive and effective way which could work as remedial measures.

A Simple workable 10 point solution for Legislators, Guardians of the Law and the Society at large include:

  1. Hiring an in-house psychologist who will be available most of the time rather than flying visits by those who come in voluntarily or vis-a-vis some NGO.
  2. An in-house doctor and medical attention to be made available 24/7.
  3. A visiting nutritionist who can keep a vigilant check on the food quality provided to these young people.
  4. Although some of the juveniles are studying externally there are many unaware that a formal education could improve their chances of societal acceptance.
  5. The government could employ these young people at various lower levels in government offices for a start giving them a fair opportunity to earn a living with dignified means in consonance to Article 21 of the Constitution.
  6. Sex education must be made compulsory in all Juvenile homes
  7. While non-stigmatising semantics is a compulsion in court processes, it is the social responsibility of citizens who come in contact with these minors to refrain from looking at them with a jaundiced eye.
  8. A higher allocation of funds for the purpose of Juvenile Rehabilitation by the respective State governments is required especially in states like Maharashtra where the occupancy rates are far higher than most other parts of the country.
  9. If the Corporate Sector can redistribute it’s CSR funds in a meaningful way to include this marginalised section we could look at some significant changes in the treatment of these erring adolescents.
  10. It is essential for the government to keep a close eye on the food supplies, medical supplies and other essentials to avoid malpractices.

Treating juveniles as lesser beings can never be the answer for a country that boasts of the world’s largest youth population. One cannot deny the fact that if they have resorted to methods and practices unworthy of their age, we as a society have failed them by keeping them on the fringes. Where we stand up for our own rights and indulge in armchair activism on non-issues we have quite clearly forgotten those who genuinely need our attention. It is only when the collective conscience of a society is aware that we can aspire to a crime-free state.

According to the United Nations Minimum standards, “The institutions should have adequate facilities and meaningful activities for children to promote their health, safety and responsibilities. It should also provide them with all necessary skill training to become responsible members of society.”

The nation has a much talked about Skill Development model supposedly working on a large scale. Could we now put it to good use with a training centre at the Juvenile home? These minors need to be given an identity post-reformation, an identity that includes them as equal citizens, not as wanna-be criminals. Can the media visit a few Juvenile homes across the country to get a first-hand account of how things work and create a more aware citizenry?

Development of a welfare state can translate into a reality when the state and its citizens along with institutions like the media work in conjunction to decipher the truth behind the crime trajectory rather than resorting to comfortably delve in a state of oblivion.

It’s never too late to start. The time for change is Now.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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