The latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report shows that while more and more children from poor families are taking to criminal activities, the number of juveniles repeating their offence has come down.
These two definite trends emerging from the NCRB report could dent the National Democratic Alliance government's push to reduce the age at which a person accused of a serious crime such as, rape or murder can be tried as an adult, from 18 to 16 years old. A bill in this regard has already been passed in Lok Sabha and is pending in Rajya Sabha.
Recidivism – a person's relapse into criminal behaviour – among juveniles has come down drastically from 9.2% in 2013 to 5.4% in 2014. Of the total 48,230 juveniles arrested for various crimes in 2014, only 2,609 were repeat offenders, the lowest since 2007, the comparison of latest NCRB data with previous ones shows.
"Interestingly, even the data on recidivism does not warrant any regressive change in the juvenile justice law as proposed by the ministry of women and child development," said Bharti Ali of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights.
NCRB's report also points toward another disturbing trend that children from the poorest of backgrounds are increasingly taking to crime. Of the total juvenile offenders, 55.6% belonged to families with annual income of less than Rs 25,000. This means that their families on average have more than four members surviving on daily income of less than Rs 70.
What further aggravates their miseries is the lack of education.
Around 53% of juveniles apprehended in 2014 were either illiterate or educated only up to primary level or Class 5, one percentage point jump in two years. Half of these juveniles dropped out of school even before reaching Class 5.
The low education also means that a large number of juveniles are not qualified for the recently launched Skill India mission by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that promises decent jobs. The basic qualification for seeking skills under the mission is Class 10. Only 36.6% of juveniles had education between primary but below Class 10 or high secondary level.
Ali said the data showed that poverty and lack of education was pushing children into crime.
"Instead of addressing the issue, the government has proposed amendment to the juvenile justice law that will ruin any possibility of rehabilitation of children in conflict with law," she added.
These children also did not get justice on time. The NCRB data shows that in 83.5% of the cases the duration of trial was more than the mandated four to six months under the Juvenile Justice Act.
Such a delay in the delivery of justice cannot be justified as it has "severe psychological impact" on a young person, Ali said.