Last month, a 16-year-old Delhiite allegedly murdered a 4-year-old boy after the victim’s mother spurned his advances. He stabbed the child more than 30 times with a pair of scissors.
In April this year, a 14-year-old boy, who held a grudge against his neighbour over Rs. 50, allegedly stabbed her to death in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri. He allegedly also killed two other women who tried to save her.
Incidents like these are not isolated — juvenile delinquency is on the rise in the Capital.Statistics for Delhi by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that cases of juvenile delinquency under the total cognisable crimes committed under the Indian Penal Code have risen from 581 in 2001 to 751 in 2011 — a 29.25% increase in 10 years.
Alarmed by the figures, experts are now looking at the reasons behind the spike.
Chandra Suman, a legal aid counsel at the Juvenile Justice Board at Kingsway Camp, says drug abuse is one of the primary reasons for youngsters getting involved in theft and robbery.
Suman adds exposure to violence through new media is affecting their behaviour. “90% of juvenile criminals are from the lower strata of society, so the economic disparity is also a factor,” he says.
But young criminals are not just involved in petty crimes. NCRB data for Delhi suggests that cases of murder committed by people younger than 18 increased by 85% between 2001 and 2011, robbery by 540%, cheating by 211% and theft by 51.46%. Amod Kanth, general secretary at the Prayas Institute of Juvenile Justice, says 16-18 is usually the age when teens become violent.
The trend is consistent nationwide. In 2001, juvenile crimes in India were pegged at 16,509. In 2011, that figure stood at 25,125.
According to Kanth, poor economic conditions, low literacy rate and family conditions such as the prevalence of alcoholism and violence usually determine whether a child ends up in the world of crime. “30-40% of young criminals are drug addicts,” he adds.
And when they do stray, gangs are there to take advantage. A 2011 order by the Juvenile Justice Board directed the police to assess the possibility of children being misused by gangs or groups. Advocate Anant Asthana, who moved a petition in the Delhi HC directing the Delhi Police to implement this order, said, “In Metro cities, we have seen children being systematically used by organised groups or adults, though that is for crimes like theft only.”
Blaming the rise in juvenile delinquency to an overall environment of violence, Shahbaz Khan from the Haq Centre for Child Rights says, “A dysfunctional family, incidences of violence in the family, community, school or a bad peer group result in juveniles taking to crime.”
Khan also said many crimes committed by juveniles are gang crimes and that most young criminals are in the age group of 16-18.