This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of juvenile crimes in India.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
In India, juvenile crime is a grim reality. A juvenile is a child who has not reached the age at which they may be held accountable for their criminal activities in the same way that an adult can. When referring to a young criminal offender, the term juvenile is used. As a result, a juvenile is a child who is accused of doing certain acts or omissions that are illegal and have been classified as such by penal laws. Juveniles have recently been proven to be involved in the most terrible crimes, such as murder and gang rape. Although the causes of criminal conduct in children are complicated, delinquency is fairly foreseeable early in the lives of certain youngsters. Many experts feel that the current law is insufficient to cope with the problem and that it has to be changed so that minors can be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for severe crimes. However, there are opposing viewpoints that do not share this thought. This article aims to discuss juvenile crimes in the Indian context.
Juvenile crime : an analysis
In India, child crime is classified as a juvenile crime. That is, delinquent acts committed by children under a specified age are classified as child crimes. However, the question of who should be referred to as a child emerges. Is there a minimum or maximum age requirement for this? Children of various ages have been labelled as child criminals in India. In India, for example, a child must be 14 years old to be declared a criminal, with the maximum age of the same being 18 years. As a result, no general assumptions about the minimum and maximum ages of juvenile offenders exist. Child crime is clearly defined as a crime committed by minors under a certain age. “Child in conflict with law” has been defined under Section 2 (l3) of the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2015 as a child who is alleged or found to have committed an offence and has not completed eighteen years of age on the date of commission of such offence.
Several minor and serious crimes, including theft, burglary, snatching, robbery, dacoity, murder, and rape, are perpetrated on a regular basis throughout India, and the awful fact is that all of these crimes are perpetrated by youngsters under the age of eighteen. There is also a trend among minors that those between the ages of 16 and 18 are more likely to be involved in terrible criminal crimes. According to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, of the 43,506 offences perpetrated against children under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Special Local Law (SLL) by juveniles in 2019, 28,830 were committed by individuals of the aforementioned age range.
Symptoms of a child offender
In India, authorities charged 27,936 minors in 2012 for their involvement in major crimes such as banditry, murder, rape, and rioting. According to NCRB data, two-thirds (66.6 percent) of individuals who appeared before JJB (Juvenile Justice Boards) in 2012 were between the ages of 16 and 18. Further, 30.9 percent of those surveyed were between the ages of 12 and 16, while the rest (2.5 percent) were between the ages of 7 and 12. There was a 143 percent rise in the number of minor rapes from 2002 to 2012. It also indicated that the number of murders has increased by 87 percent, while the number of women and girls kidnapped by juveniles has increased by 500 percent.
However, between 2007 and 2012, the number of serious crimes like rape and murder perpetrated by juveniles accounted for just 8% of all crimes committed by minors. Petty crimes such as stealing, burglary, and inflicting harm account for 72 percent of all crimes committed by juveniles. Taking into note the increasing graph of juvenile crimes in India, it is necessary to be well familiar with the symptoms being evident to show which child has an inclination towards becoming an offender or is already one. The symptoms that can be summarized from various researches and studies, responsibly defining a child offender, have been laid down hereunder:
- In many cases, a juvenile’s bodily structure is healthy, and a healthy body is powerful and courageous.
- They are naturally restless, introverted, and disruptive.
- They have an unethical, highly emotional, egotistical, and self-centred nature.
- They are myopic, oblivious to the repercussions of their actions.
- Child offenders are more likely than other youngsters to have a psychotic condition.
- In child criminals, there is a lack of healthy id, ego, and superego equilibrium.
- They are frequently irritated, disappointed, and melancholic.
- They disobey norms, go against the power, break the law, and have a tendency to be untrustworthy.
- They have no pre-planned solution to any difficulty that their culture has thrown at them.
- In the majority of cases, they don’t talk to their relatives and families about their problems.
Types of juvenile crimes in India
Juvenile crimes manifest themselves in a range of conduct or behaviours. Each pattern has a distinct social setting. According to Yamini Abde, a child rights campaigner, one of the driving motivations behind children being involved in horrible crimes like rape and murder is the desire to do something new, brave, unique, and thrilling. Peer pressure, a need for quick cash, and easy access to crime and pornographic images on the internet increased hostility and sexual activity among teenagers, as well as the awareness that they will not face criminal charges since they are minors, are also catalysts in the process of building a child offender. The lack of fear of punishment has resulted in an increase in the rate of criminality among minors. Howard Becker, in 1966, identified four categories of juvenile delinquency, namely, individual, group-supported, organised, and situational delinquency.
Individual juvenile crimes
- Individual delinquency refers to all delinquent activities undertaken by a juvenile on his or her own. The source of the problem is found inside the criminal themself. Psychiatrists claim that they are the result of psychological issues. The primary cause of these psychological issues is dysfunctional and unhealthy familial contact patterns. The psychiatrists compared the delinquent siblings to their non-delinquent siblings and discovered that the most prevalent reason for committing such crimes was that they were unhappy and dissatisfied with their living conditions.
- They engage in delinquent behaviour in the first place to attract attention from family or peers.
- Others conduct delinquent activities in order to alleviate their guilt. Psychiatrists also discovered that delinquents varied from non-delinquent in their relationship with their dads, rather than with their mothers. In addition, their discipline was stricter and more severe.
Circumstantial child crimes
- The core reasons for situational delinquency are not well understood. As a result, regulating such delinquent behaviours is easier than controlling other forms of delinquencies.
- Circumstantial delinquency offers a unique viewpoint. The notion is that delinquency is not deeply established and that the motivations for delinquency and the methods for reducing it are frequently straightforward. Because of less developed impulse control and/or lower reinforcement of familial limitations, a young individual engages in delinquent conduct without a profound commitment to delinquency, and because they stand to lose relatively little even if detected.
- One researcher who mentions this form of delinquency is David Matza. The idea of circumstantial delinquency is underdeveloped and is not given much weight in the debate over delinquent causation. It is meant to complement rather than replace other kinds.
Organized child crimes
- Organized child crimes are formally structured organisations that commit organised delinquencies. This refers to a system of principles and conventions that drive young people’s behaviour when they exhibit delinquent behaviours.
- In the 1950s, these delinquencies were studied in the United States, and the term “delinquent sub-culture” was coined. This notion refers to a system of principles and norms that drive group members’ conduct in order to stimulate the performance of delinquent activities, grant status based on such acts, and define typical connections for those who fall outside of the groups defined by group norms.
Group supported child crimes
- Delinquencies are committed in this sort in the company of others, and the cause is found not in the individual’s personality or in the delinquent’s family, but in the culture of the individual’s home and neighbourhood.
- This sort of delinquency is discussed in Thrasher, Shaw, and McKay’s research. According to research, the majority of young children who turned delinquent did so as a result of their affiliation and companionship with other delinquents.
- Unlike psychogenic theories, this group of concepts focuses on what is learned and from whom it is learned, rather than the difficulties that may lead to delinquency motivation.
Reasons behind juvenile crimes in India
No one is born with the potential to be a criminal. Circumstances have shaped them into who they are. The socio-cultural environment, both within and outside of one’s household, has a big influence on one’s life and general personality. The causes of juvenile crimes, according to Healy and Bronner, are bad company, adolescent instability and impulses, early sex experience, mental conflicts, extreme social suggestibility, love of adventure, motion picture, school dissatisfaction, poor recreation, street life, vocational dissatisfaction, sudden impulse, and physical conditions of various kinds. However, in India, it is poverty and the impact of the media, particularly social media, that encourages youths to engage in illegal activity. Poverty is one of the leading factors of a child’s involvement in criminal activity. Also, the current function of social media, which has a more destructive impact on young brains.
- Broken homes:
According to one of Uday Shankar’s research in India, 13.3 percent of the 140 juveniles came from broken households. Death of one or both parents, chronic sickness or insanity, desertion, or divorce can all break up a family. Interaction at home is a critical component of a child’s socialisation.
A substantial percentage of delinquent youngsters originate from low-income families. They perpetuate their crimes as gang members. According to Uday Shankar’s research, 83 percent of youngsters originate from low-income homes. Poverty forces both parents to work outside the home for lengthy periods of time in order to earn their daily bread. There will be no one to look after the children. Such youngsters may join up with gangsters, either knowingly or unconsciously, and become criminals.
- Friends and companions:
As the child grows older, he/she ventures out into the neighbourhood and joins a playgroup or peer group. He/ she will very certainly become a delinquent if he/she joins a group or gang that supports delinquent tendencies. Adolescents also commit crimes as a result of poor friendships. According to studies, delinquent behaviours are committed in groups. Shaw examined 6000 youths involved in criminality in his Illinois Crime Survey of 1928. In 90% of the instances, he discovered that two or more youths were involved in the crime.
Juvenile misbehaviour is frequently caused by beggars. The majority of child beggars originate from either very impoverished backgrounds or shattered homes. These youngsters are robbed of their parents’ much-needed love and attention. They realise that the only way to satisfy their wants and meet their requirements is to engage in deviant behaviour. As a result, they become delinquents.
- Mental illness:
According to certain criminologists, there is a strong link between mental illness and crime. Some studies have looked at teenage patients and discovered that they had a variety of mental illnesses. Treatment, not punishment, is required for a youngster. Psychopathic personality, according to some mental therapists, is the root of juvenile crime in India. A psychopathic child is born into a home where love control and affection are completely absent.
- Personality traits:
Personality qualities and a criminal proclivity have also been proven to have a strong link. Personality is a means for a person to adapt to their circumstances. In this adaptation, criminal youngsters engage in criminal actions.
- Individualized emotional issues:
Mental health issues and emotional maladjustment are significant contributors to juvenile crimes. Delinquent youngsters may suffer from feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. “Delinquency is a revolt and an expression of aggressiveness aimed at damaging, breaking down, or altering the environment,” according to a psychological perspective. This revolt is mostly motivated by societal situations that limit an individual’s basic rights and the fulfilment of their basic necessities. As a result, delinquents are not born delinquents, rather, they become delinquents as a result of societal conditions and personal flaws.
Need for sensitive handling of the juvenile crime challenge
Currently, a great number of individuals in society are demanding that adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 be considered as adults in cases where they have been convicted of horrific crimes such as rape, gang rape, murder, dacoity, and so on. The reason for the aforementioned consideration is that in numerous recent events, minors in the 16-18 age bracket have been proven to be participating in severe crimes, and they are doing so with full knowledge and maturity. Because of the effect of the internet and social media, children’s maturity levels have not remained the same as they were 10-20 years ago. A child’s mental maturity comes early in today’s socio-cultural milieu.
The most essential thing parents can do to preserve their children’s development is to provide a protective and caring atmosphere in their homes. Several theorists have emphasised the relevance of protective elements in the family and their good influence on child development and well-being.
When it comes to the law-holders and state actors to curb the accelerating graph of juvenile crimes in India, they should be sensitive, careful and friendly with the juvenile delinquent. Their approach should be a reformative one instead of deterrence, to bring in welfare in the society.
Cases on juvenile crime in India
While there are some prominent cases that have been listed hereunder and have received media attention, there remain a plethora of juvenile crime cases in India that remain undiscovered.
- December 16, 2012: A girl was abducted, raped, and killed on a moving bus in south Delhi by a juvenile and his acquaintances.
- November 29, 2013: In Mayur Vihar, a group of five children who escaped from a city juvenile home amid riots and burning, murdered a jeweller’s wife and eloped with 50 kg of silver jewellery and Rs. 10 lakh cash.
- October 17, 2015: Two youths were accused of rape after kidnapping an infant in Nangloi.
- December 24, 2015: Three borderline juvenile gunmen opened fire in a chamber at the Karkardooma court complex, killing a police officer.
- February 24, 2016: A 17-year-old boy, released from a juvenile home for ‘good behaviour’ strangled an elderly woman in south Delhi’s BK Dutt Colony.
- March 24, 2016: Four minors were found to be involved in a case in which a doctor was beaten to death in Vikaspuri.
- April 6, 2016: Two juveniles allegedly shot an Uber driver in the Mundka area and fled with the car after dumping the body.
- August 29, 2017: Two Bollywood celebrities’ children have been accused of viciously abusing a classmate, and they are now being investigated by the authorities. One of these youngsters is an actor’s son, while the other is a cinematographer’s son.
- December 22, 2017: A 22-year-old woman has alleged that she was raped by five people, including four juveniles, in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri area.
Penalties existing for juvenile offenders in India
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000, which brought the country into line with the Child Rights Convention of 1989, was the most important post-independence legislation governing juvenile crime. Anyone under the age of 18 was deemed a minor under this rule, and they were never allowed to stand trial as an adult. This was the clause that sparked outrage in India following the “Nirbhaya Delhi Gang Rape Case,” an occurrence that shocked the whole country on December 16, 2012. The Supreme Court had observed in the case of Gaurav Kumar v. State of Haryana (2015) that the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 needed to be reexamined since it had failed to dissuade minors in the country from committing small as well as grave crimes. The participation of a person under the age of 18 in such a horrible crime as rape and the Apex Court’s perspective, drove the Indian legislature to pass new legislation, and so the Parliament passed the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015.” This Act repealed the previous juvenile statutes and made a few significant amendments. One of the most notable modifications was that if a child between the ages of 16 and 18 was suspected of committing a terrible crime, they would be tried as adults.
A “child” is defined as a person who has not reached the age of eighteen, according to Section 2, sub-section 12 of The Juvenile (Care and Protection) Act, 2015. The term “child” is divided into two groups under the Act:
1. “a child who is in confrontation with the law,” and
2. “a child in need of protection and care”
A “child in confrontation with the law” is a child who has committed an offence and is under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. A “child in need of care and protection,” as described by Section 14 of the Act, is the second category. According to the Act, the maximum sentence for juvenile offenders is three years, and this sentence is applicable to both serious and minor offences. In the instance of an adult perpetrator, the highest penalty that may be imposed is 7 years in jail, life in prison, or the death sentence.
The Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons (2005) that all adolescents should not be placed into a single category, but rather should be examined individually based on their maturity level, IQ, life experience, sentiments of moral responsibility, and prior history. As a result, the concept of differentiated care for juveniles is given considerable consideration.
Judiciary’s take on existing penalties for juvenile offenders
It was contended in the case of Mukesh and Anr vs. State of NCT of Delhi & Ors (2017), also known as the Nirbhaya rape case, that the accused’s age should not be used as a shield for the level of cruelty he perpetrated on the victim. He was found to have physically tortured the woman with an iron rod, hurled obscenities at her, and caused internal ruptures in her body. In the final decision, the juvenile was left free after completing his assigned term of imprisonment by the Court.
Advocate Shweta Kapoor filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court, demanding amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, to deal with children who have reached the age of 16 and are involved in serious crime, owing to the ignorance of laws towards such heinous crimes committed by so-called “children”. The PIL stated that “juveniles who have reached the age of 16 and commit significant crimes have well-developed minds and do not require society’s care and protection. Rather, society requires care and protection against them”.
The case of State of Maharashtra vs. Vijay Mohan Jadhav & Ors (2021), often known as the Shakti Mills rape case, included a child accused of being involved in a horrible act of rape. A youngster was one of the alleged rapists in the case. In this incident, one of the primary accused was a juvenile who received just three years imprisonment in a detention facility, while the adult criminals were sentenced to death. The question that comes to mind is whether or not the existing punishment is sufficient to rectify a young person.
Another point that needs to be considered is the meaning of the word ‘heinous.’ A person of 16-18 years old must be charged with a terrible crime in order to be tried as an adult. Section 2(33) of the 2015 Act provides that “those offences for which the minimum punishment under the IPC, 1860 or any other legislation for the time being in force is imprisonment for seven years or more,” will be considered as heinous offences. Allowing a 16-18-year-old to be tried as an adult in some situations is undeniably a triumph for the Indian judicial system, nevertheless, the definition of heinous appears to be faulty. In the case of Saurabh Jalinder Nangre vs. Maharashtra (2018), this was demonstrated. The Bombay High Court was hearing a writ petition in this case, which raised the question of whether the juvenile should be sent to children’s court owing to the crime being attempted murder, which is punishable under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Court determined that “in the present instance, all of the petitioners, despite being between the ages of 16 and 18, have not committed heinous crimes and, thus, their case is not covered under Section 15 of the 2015 Act and therefore the case cannot be moved to Children’s Court. As a result, the Sangli Juvenile Justice Board will handle the investigation.” The Court in this case chose to treat the 17-year-olds as minors and spare them from the penalty they deserved, despite the fact that they attempted to take someone’s life and cause irreparable injury.
It is crucial to highlight that using such a definition makes crime appear to be the consequence of an age cycle, whereas in reality, crime is what a type causes you to do, and 16 years of age is sufficient for a person to be conscientious and consider what is right and wrong.
Stringent directions provided by the judiciary concerning juvenile offenders
The offence of rape was ruled to constitute a breach of the Right to Life granted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Subhra Chakraborty (1995). The Supreme Court of India had observed that fundamental rights have precedence over any other right protected by any other law. As a result, the blanket immunity provided to the juveniles was considered ultra vires to the Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled in Ram Prasad Sahu v. State of Bihar (1979), that a minor criminal can be convicted of both rapes and attempted rape. If a youngster is not eligible for punishment but is capable of committing rape or murder, granting him blanket immunity violates the principles of fairness and proportionality of punishment.
Juveniles have been involved in a number of recent crimes committed against women, including sexual harassment, rape, acid attacks, and violent killings. To combat this threat, Section 18(3) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 provides that if the juvenile is found to have committed a heinous crime and is over the age of 16, the Juvenile Board may transfer the case to a Children’s Court where they may send him to a place of safety and after a preliminary assessment with regard to their mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence, and the circumstances in which they allegedly committed the offence, the Juvenile Board may transfer the case to a Children’s Court, which may sentence them to jail.
Indian governments are working to better the situation in India when it comes to juvenile crime. Although juvenile crime has decreased in recent years, there are still certain issues that must be addressed. The government is taking steps to provide good entertainment for children, such as games and competitions, pornography and bad movies are outlawed, and each district has a child guidance centre and provides proper training to those who will be affected. Punishment is forced to defend itself by its real impact on society, in maintaining order without legalising cruelty, and on the offender, in discouraging or facilitating their reform. The moral rationale for punishment is found in its consequences, in its contribution to crime prevention and criminal reintegration into society. It is founded on a hypothesis that looks forward. It evaluates the future good we can accomplish for society as it relates to juveniles. Juvenile crime prevention necessitates collaboration between government agencies, educational institutions, law enforcement, the courts, social workers, and non-profit groups.
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