The Mumbai police claim the number cases of theft involving minors has increased in the last three years.
Theft tops the list of offences registered against children below 18 years of age, statistics available with the police say.
In 2007, 264 cases or 41% out of 630 cases registered against minors were that of theft. This increased to 287 cases in 2008 and 323 in 2009.
The number of thefts involving minors this year has already touched 298. This means, 55% of offences registered against minors until September 30 this year, are related to theft.
Police say most children involved in crimes are orphans or urchins, but some also come from middle-class families.
“Children are not usually suspected to be involved and people take advantage of this and hire them,” said Jaywant Hargude, assistant commissioner of police (crime branch). “Minors, who get into the world of crime, find it difficult to come out. They think they can get whatever they want.”
Experts blame the rise on increasing temptation to own material things such as mobile phones. “The temptation to possess something that is commonly available leads a child to steal it,” said Hargude.
Jeevan D’Cunha, child psychologist and counsellor, said one cannot pinpoint a particular reason for the rise in crimes among minors.
He said an important factor, especially in children from decent families, is the lack of a moral compass in adolescents. “For adolescents, who have never known need or want, doing something illegal maybe the only threshold of rule that they have to break,” D’Cunha said. “It gives them a sense of doing something cool.”
Himanshu Roy, joint commissioner of police (crime), said: “Three most important reasons [for crimes involving children] are poverty, temptation and lack of parental guidance. When the offender is poor, he takes to crime because of need and for a child from a decent family it is because of want. Parents should be friends with their children and be curious about their needs.”