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We often say that children have the brightest of ideas, they are the fresher minds and bring in new perspectives that the world needs. But what happens when these innocent brains are used to violate the laws and commit crimes repeatedly? The world recognises such kids as Juvenile Delinquents, aka, children below or upto 18 years old, minors, who act habitually disobedient and break the laws in one way or the other. In the early 1800s, youthful offenders were tried in the same way as adults. Later, child delinquency was seen as a serious social issue. Over the years now, psychologists have been observing them and trying to understand their behavior and reasons behind it. They aren’t given the same punishments as adults anymore, but punishments which are lighter in intensity, depending on the seriousness of their crimes.

Factors that drive their brain:

What causes the child to choose the path of delinquency, for them to go against the law? Each child grows up in different surroundings and is brought up in varied unique ways. Thus, we cannot narrow down the reasons into a single theory. In India, a criminal tendency of a child is sometimes attributed to their parents' evil deeds in their past lives, which is purely a prejudice. Research has proven that the lack of effective parenting or a hostile home environment often causes the children to develop delinquent tendencies. Relationship patterns with family, influences how children perceive and interact with others and what they think. Behaviour of alcoholic parents, peers, and excessive punishments in schools and homes are some factors that can fuel up a juvenile's aggression. Not only such external factors, but a variety of disorders are also diagnosed in the juveniles. Usually, the recurring misconducts are associated with conduct disorder, which develops during childhood. The behavior of kids with this order is usually aggressive, destructive, offensive and they are likely to commit more crimes as they age. Several studies have revealed that the characteristics of such delinquents are associated with psychopathic and antisocial personality traits. If not treated, it can increase the probability of a person turning into a serious criminal offender in adulthood.

Through the eye of a sociologist:

Unlike psychologists, juvenile delinquency is viewed more holistically by sociologists. They believe that juveniles are products of society and the delinquency is the byproduct of modern urbanisation and industrialization. Creating cultural complexities, which in turn increases social problems, results in increasing crime rates of a particular area. Juveniles are often found to be socially insensitive, they indulge in impulsive acts, lacking ethical standards and understanding towards people and the society. As far as their rebellious acts go, many children run away from their homes and join gangs, where they feel accepted. To belong in the group, they do all sorts of tasks that they are asked to do, including repeatedly committing various crimes. Such teens unknowingly become criminals, and once they are labelled so, they tend to accept the role and violate more laws. This is a concept in criminology, called Labelling Theory, that explains the deviant behavior from social context, rather than individuals themselves. Not only the gangs, but also the terrorist groups recruit the vulverable kids either by trafficking, forcibly or by various tempting tactics. These recruited children don’t play a particular role. They act as messengers, spies, smugglers, slaves and sometimes, are also asked to participate in terrorist attacks and taught how to use weapons. Child recruits have been found in Iraq, Syria, Sudan and more, with Afghanistan being listed as the deadliest conflict for children in 2020’s report of Secretary-General on children in armed conflict.

Steps taken by Government:

The Juvenile Justice Amendment act of 2015 replaced the Juvenile Justice act of 2000 because there existed a need for a more robust and effective justice system that focused on deterrent as well as reformative approaches. The approach towards juveniles should be different from that of adults, as they should be given more space for transformation, reformation or improvement and that is only possible when there’s a special justice system. Thus, the new act of 2015 focused on a juvenile friendly approach of adjudication and disposition of matters. Children below the age of 16 years will be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board, with a maximum of 3 years of sentence (petty offenses). If the juvenile is between the age of 16-18, the child can get a sentence of more than 3 years but not death penalty and life imprisonment. Later, the Supreme Court observed that the act of 2015 did not deal with offenses of more than seven years or offenses which do not have a minimum sentence greater than seven years. For this, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2020 was proposed.

The number of ‘juveniles in conflict with law’, according to NCRB, reflects the reported number of crimes committed by children below 18 years of age. In the past fifteen years, the juvenile crime rate in India has increased by 65%, with 2016 seeing the highest rate of cases. In comparison to which, the crime rates declined by 7.8% in 2020. In India, the age of criminality is 7 years, while in other countries like Belgium, children are prosecuted for crime once they attain the age of 16. In Belgium, the judge allows the children the opportunity to speak about their feelings towards their parents and society. The decisions are taken accordingly, keeping the best interests of the child in mind. The same is asked from the Indian government, to assist the troubled children instead of punishing them and reform the juvenile system with thorough studies rather than just lowering the age. Child Rights International Network ranked Belgium first in access to juvenile justice, while India was ranked at 43rd position all over the world.

The Criminal Mindset- Treatable?

Most of the juvenile delinquents are victims to undesirable circumstances, as no one is born as a criminal. Despite behavioral patterns, there is a way to alter these mental conditions in certain people to help them stray away from the life of crime. Instead of punishing, the best way to treat them is by rehabilitating and educating them, making them feel accepted in society. The first Juvenile Court was built in Madras, where the main aim was to provide a protective and constructive environment for the child and act as their guardian angel. Governments are recognizing the importance of the prevention of delinquency by taking initiatives and starting community programs for such troubled children. Schemes like “Yuva”, implemented by Delhi Police to mitigate juvenile crime by encouraging vocational skills among the juveniles, which help them make good judgements to earn a livelihood, are the need of the hour and must be adopted throughout the country. Not only Juvenile Courts but also foster homes, certified and reformative schools are aimed towards the treatment and rehabilitation of the juveniles.

A grave problem like juvenile delinquency cannot be solved by means of legislation or government efforts alone. In many states of India, the Children's Act is still not enforced. Not only the government and private authorities, but also locals should sincerely work hand in hand with them to find an effective remedy to this problem. I think that the attitude of the public towards these delinquents should change too, as they are the product of an unwholesome environment of this negligible society.

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