Juvenile crimes: This loss of innocence diminishes us | columns | Hindustan Times
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Juvenile crimes: This loss of innocence diminishes us

Children indulging in crime is a fact staring us in the face. The rot needs to be stemmed.

columns Updated: Dec 10, 2017 16:43 IST
A candle-light vigil in New Delhi to protest against the juvenile accused in the December 16 gangrape case.
A candle-light vigil in New Delhi to protest against the juvenile accused in the December 16 gangrape case. (Hindustan Times)

Last month, I was left stunned when the Delhi Police registered a rape case against a four-and-a-half-year old boy. I initially thought that the police had erred, but no, the case was more serious than we had imagined.

The girl’s mother said her daughter was in trauma. She alleged that the school administration tried to suppress the news. Given the boy’s young age, nobody was willing to believe that he had committed the offence. The incredulity was on expected lines. How could a child of four, who is not likely to even comprehend every word, emotion or expression, carry out such a heinous crime? For the record, a child below the age of seven cannot be charged under law. Still, we need to discuss the subject since the case has shaken the innocence of the entire nation.

Even as the police, society and medical experts were trying to wrap their head around the incident, in less than a month a second similar case made headlines. In this instance, a class 5 student in Ghaziabad indulged in some unmentionable activities with a class 2 student. I don’t want to go into the details, but it is sufficient to say that his actions were as cruel as Nirbhaya’s killers. The juvenile involved in that case is old enough to serve a prison term today. It is said that the most barbaric behaviour with Nirbhaya was carried out by this teenager. Has the air we breathe become so polluted that innocence has gone out of our childhood?

A few people want to excuse themselves by arguing that it has always been the case. Saying so doesn’t mean that it should continue to happen. The experience so far shows that the children who become victims of such abuse go on to experience complications as adults and at times even their domestic lives can get derailed. The shadows of their traumatic experiences during childhood keep chasing them through their life.

NCRB statistics drive home the severity of the problem. If 466 cases of crimes committed by young people were registered in 2003, 10 years later, in 2013, the number increased to 1,737. In 2015, 1,688 youngsters were accused of criminal acts. Why is the problem spreading in our society like an epidemic? Till today youngsters were troubled by it. But today, at a time when even children are coming within its grasp, we should be afraid. From children one expects sweetness, not cruel behaviour.

I am no social scientist but when I spoke to an expert who is involved in counselling juveniles, I came to know that in most of the cases, these transgressions were carried out by family members or people known to the children. Since the act is generally linked to infamy of people who are either family members, or those the family considers their own, police complaints are seldom made.

At times when such incidents happen in schools or other public places, the anger of the victims’ parents brings it to the police’s doorstep. People handling such cases say that owing to staying in nuclear families and cramped spaces, many children accidentally become familiar with a lot of things that are perceived as taboo.

The booming porn business has further compounded the problem. Mobile phones in the hands of the young haven’t just led to the spread of knowledge but also disseminated the science of perversity. No gift comes without its troubles, goes an old saying. According to Kassia Wosick, associate professor with the New Mexico State University, the porn business worldwide touched 97 billion dollars in 2014-15. Of this the United States alone accounted for a between 10 billion and 12 billion. In India, the Modi government has tried to put restrictions on it but the digital world’s fires cannot be put out so easily. It has a number of ways of transmission.

A few escapists reason that in the land of the Kama Sutra, we shouldn’t talk about immature subjects such as trying to restrict porn. With extreme enthusiasm, they also tell you that by etching out such scenes at the temples of Konark and Khajuraho, our forefathers displayed their liberal attitudes. Why do they forget that both these temples were built in the final few years of the Rajput era and after that, India was colonised by foreign invaders? When schools and places of worship become hubs of repressed desires, a society’s downfall is imminent.

Ignoring this warning sounded by history can become the trigger for larger problems. It would be better if we woke up before that.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

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