ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding Juvenile Crime

Notes from the Field

There is increasing clamour to lower the age for juvenile-accused and demands to try them as adults in the court of law. Based on fieldwork in juvenile homes in Delhi, this article highlights the lack of awareness about the juvenile justice system among inmates of juvenile homes. Changing the law may be an important step but there should be more emphasis on educating juvenile offenders about their legal rights.

Let me begin this essay on juvenile crime with a personal experience with juveniles, potentially delinquents. Recently, I was walking in a relatively secluded area of Delhi in broad daylight, when I heard a sound from a fast approaching motorbike from behind. Within a fraction of a second, I felt an inappropriate physical gesture. And within a fraction of the next second, I realised that this was by one of the three fancily dressed slum kids who zoomed past me. I felt anger and helplessness and reported the motorbike number, or whatever I could remember of it, to a nearby police chowki. That is the most I was capable or willing to do due to a recovering ankle problem. The plight of residents, who might have faced such violence frequently, came to my mind after this personal experience. This must stop. If juvenile crime needs to be addressed effectively, it must first be studied effectively.

The discourse on juvenile crime in the Indian policy realm is more focused on an ex post facto approach of tweaking the law to make it more stringent in case of juveniles accused of heinous crimes (the Indian Parliament recently passed an amendment to this effect). Such a law, though seemingly desirable from a “justice be served” point of view, might fail to act as a deterrent in the long term if not complemented by more focus on two things. First, the ex ante approach of considering the socio-economic circumstances of juvenile offenders who themselves are victims. Most of them are vulnerable to “bad influence” by virtue of their lack of access to schooling, unregulated access to alcohol, child labour, low income parents and so on. Second, we need to ensure efficacious rehabilitation by spending more on infrastructure such as sports facilities, local libraries and special training programmes.

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