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Juvenile dereliction

india Updated: Dec 13, 2007 22:32 IST
Highlight Story

In the clamour over the Gurgaon school shooting by two 14-year-old boys, a crime of significant proportions escaped our attention. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, was flouted with reckless abandon. The perpetrators of this crime: an upholder of the law, the Gurgaon Commissioner of Police, who saw it fit to name the children in front of TV cameras; members of the Fourth Estate, especially television channels as reputed as NDTV and CNN-IBN, which broadcast the names as often as they could, and newspapers, which identified the children without thought; and the supposedly responsible school authorities, who gave free access to television crews to shoot talk sessions, record grabs of the crime scene, even images of school bags and identity cards — in the process tampering with a crime scene and destroying evidence.

Who cared about a little thing called the Juvenile Justice Act?

<b1>Formulated to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law and children in need of protection, Article 13, Chapter 2, of the Act clearly states: “No report in any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or visual media of any inquiry regarding a juvenile in conflict with law under this Act shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile, nor shall any picture of any such juvenile be published.”

The Act could not be clearer. Nothing — no words, no images, no inferences — should lead to the identification of children accused and arrested for a crime. So, what does Gurgaon’s Police Commissioner do when faced with a barrage of cameras? He goes right ahead and names the children.

Reporters are especially holier-than-thou when covering crime stories. But everyone, from the reporter capturing sound bytes to the news editor clearing stories, seemed unaware of the provisions of the law. Reporters of channels as top-of-the-line as NDTV and CNN-IBN were rampantly recording interviews with classmates of the accused, in which their names were being loudly broadcast. If, even for a minute, one were to forgive the reporters (after all, how were they to know that the kids would blurt out the names?), what was the news editor doing back in the studio? How many times have editors blipped out a ‘f**k’ or a ‘sh*t’ in interviews? So what stopped them from doing the same when the Police Commissioner or the schoolchildren named the accused? TRP ratings?

By December 12, channels were broadcasting close-ups of the accused children’s identity cards — name, photo, et al. Thus, the combined efforts of the authorities and the media may have just turned two children into lifetime criminals. This, even though the Juvenile Justice Act categorically states, “The Board (Juvenile Justice Board) shall make an order directing that the relevant records of such conviction shall be removed after the expiry of the period of appeal or a reasonable period as prescribed under the rules, as the case may be.”

It is arguable that these children will ever be able to erase the psychological impact of their crime. And, long after official documents of their case are ‘removed’, who will delete the thousands of bytes of video recordings and the digitally-available news reports? Who will give these children the chance to make a fresh start in life?

School principals, meanwhile, have been working overtime to wash their hands off responsibility for such incidents. After all, this could well happen in their schools next. Principals have talked about their rigorous admission policy (sure, leave out the ‘riff-raff’). The principal of the school in question clearly did a barter of sorts with the media: I’ll give you complete access to the school premises and, in return, you make sure that none of the muck sticks to the school. Sure enough, not one channel raised the issue of the lack of adequate counselling for children in school. This, when it is evident that the bar for violent incidents involving students has dropped from the realm of college-going youth to children as young as 10.

Is this a result of a new generation of children fed on copious quantities of television and cinema? On hours of WWE wrestling, gruesome crime specials, or even films like Rang de Basanti that confidently posit violence as a solution for political corruption? Or, is it a fallout of families newly entering into money and the privileged life of the rich, where children see daily examples of how a few notes here or a wad there lets you free from a traffic challan or smoothens the way to a property registry?

The Gurgaon incident is a reminder of just how hostile our society has become for children. Their parents may give in to all their demands, but are unavailable when the children need them most. Some even mistakenly believe that their job is done once they put their children into a ‘good, English-medium school’. In school, teachers often have little or no training in conflict resolution or child psychology. Outside, the police, even senior officers, appear to have little awareness of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. And then, the media, in a scramble for attention-grabbing headlines, turn children into performers in a freak circus.

A child has lost his life. Two children have lost all hope of redemption. It’s hard to see the silver lining in this dark, dark, cloud.

Arti Jaiman is Director, Pitara Kids Network Private Limited