Friday nights are when the rich go out for dinner and fun. On September 9th, a class 11 student took his friend out for dinner in his MG Hector. But before the night turned into morning, the juvenile had hit and run over a 23-year-old food delivery partner who died soon after he was rushed to hospital. The brat at the wheel had abandoned his car and fled the accident spot, but was apprehended by the police who registered an FIR.
On August 31st, a 17-year old smothered to death an 18-year-old differently abled boy he was meant to be looking after, in a posh South Delhi double-storeyed home shared by two brothers who were jewellers with stores in the capital and in Mumbai. The rest of the family members were away attending a family function.
The juvenile caretaker absconded after the murder, leaving a film-inspired “Killer King” sign written with red toothpaste on a washroom mirror, and a black glove on a bedside table – reminiscent of a scene from the Bollywood film “Tu Chor Mai Sipahi”. He also took with him whatever jewellery he could lay hands on, besides a smartphone and about Rs 40,000 cash. Only to be nabbed from a Bihar-bound train the same evening and sent to a juvenile home.
That same day, on August 25th, the south Delhi Police arrested a 19-year old for allegedly chasing and shooting a girl who was heading home from school. He was on a bike with two others, a 19-year old and a 24-year old, who have also been arrested. While the victim was shifted to a hospital with a gunshot injury to her shoulder and said to be out of danger, police said the 19-year old had told them that he had met her through social media, but she had stopped talking to him some time back. So he and his friends had planned to kill her on her way back from school. Two of the three alleged criminals narrowly missed being counted among juveniles.
What the numbers say
According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of children) Act, 2015, “juvenile” means “a child below the age of 18 years” (page 5, point 35). Under this Act, “in no case a child alleged to be in conflict with law shall be placed in a police lock up or lodged in a jail.”
There are many other provisions and other laws that are aimed to protect juveniles. There is the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, 2012 for instance, which defines anyone below 18 years of age as a child. “So what happens is often youth who are a little over 18 but don’t have clear documents to establish their age, attempt to pass off as juvenile,” says lawyer Ashwini Kumar. “There have been many examples of this, including in the Nirbhaya case”.
The recent examples cited above is reflected in an analysis of figures released on August 29th by the National Crime Records Bureau in its annual report, which indicates that juveniles in conflict with the law was a major cause of concern in the national capital.
Mention the word juvenile, and it brings back memories of the teenager, who was one of the perpetrators in the brutal and violent gang rape of Jyoti Singh, better known as Nirbhaya, in December 2012.
Across the country, a total of 31170 cases were registered against juveniles (page 21) in 2021, showing a 4.7% increase over 2020, when the number of cases was 29,768. A majority of them — 76.2% or 28,539 in absolute terms — were in the 16 to 18 age group. Crime rate among juveniles had also gone up from 6.7% to 7.0%.
The 2011 Population Census put the child population of the country at 4441.5 lakhs. Which means according to the latest NCRB report, seven out of 100 juveniles in the country were involved in some criminal activity. In all, 37,444 juveniles were apprehended. Of these 32,654 were taken in under sections of the Indian Penal Code, and 4790 under state and local laws.
Delhi — the black spot?
What is more, going by the NCRB’s report “Crime in India 2021” (page 511), Delhi seems to have more juveniles indulging in crime and violation of law, relative to other cities. Of the total of 3129 juveniles who have come into conflict with the law in all the union territories put together, 2643 are from Delhi. Much larger states like Rajasthan saw 2757 cases and Tamil Nadu 2212.
The NCRB looked at 19 metropolitan cities with a population of over 2 million people each, and has recorded an interesting fact: the total of such crimes in these cities has been dropping steadily — 6885 in 2019, 5974 in 2020, and 5828 in 2021.
Delhi, however, is the black spot with an increasing number of cases: it tops the list with almost half of the cases — 2618 in 2021, up from 2436 in 2020, but less than the 2760 cases in 2019. Just to give a larger picture, in densely populated Mumbai, only 332 cases were registered against juveniles in 2021; the same as in 2020. Also, juvenile crime in the financial capital had halved from 611 during pre-COVID 2019.
Are the juveniles of the national capital more crime prone than their counterparts in other cities? Juvenile criminals in Delhi have been booked under various sections of the IPC, like Section 302 — murder; Section 307 — attempt to murder; Section 308 — culpable homicide; Section 354 — assault on women with intent to outrage their modesty; Section 376 IPC — rape; Sections 363-369 — kidnapping and abduction, and hurting others.
Theft and robbery would seem small crimes in comparison, but the numbers of such crimes too are aplenty, as are offences against property.
Mirror to society
Human rights lawyer Navkiran Singh points out that often times juveniles just get caught in the crime that has not solely been committed by them. He recalls a case involving a whole family that went and killed someone and were arrested and charged with murder.
“The juvenile went with his family, and became an accused in the case,” says Navkiran Singh. “If we take rape, I would say it could be consensual sex in some cases. But if the girl is under 18, the age of consent, it amounts to rape, and so it becomes a crime by a juvenile”.
Under-age people committing crimes would largely be from the lower strata of society, and would mostly be about theft of mobile phones, chain snatching and sexual offences, Navkiran adds.
“It is society that is responsible for this,” Navkiran says. “These are children of people who have no work, no education, exercise no parental control. So as a society, we have to seriously consider compulsory education for all, make parents accountable”.
The lawyer admits that affluent juveniles are “spoilt brats of parents who exercise no control”. Think of the hit and run cases, cases of drunken youth driving their swanky cars after late night parties, or even old cases like the Manu Sharma killing of model Jessica Lal case.
Looking deeper into the NCRB figures, of the 3287 juveniles apprehended in the capital in 2021, 1387 had not gone beyond matric (10th) in terms of education, while 951 had not gone beyond the primary classes, and 613 were totally illiterate. Just 11 of them had cleared the higher secondary level. Strangely, only 214 were homeless — 2538 of them were living with their parents and 535 with guardians.
The pandemic, people working on child rights protection believe, had led to an increase in crime by juveniles. “During the COVID-19 crisis, cases of crime by minors increased considerably,” says Anurag Kundu, chairman of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
In 2021, juvenile courts in Delhi were told that there was a 44% increase in criminal cases against juveniles. In October 2021, the Delhi High Court quashed petty crime cases that had been pending for over a year, freeing 1108 children. The court had ruled that all cases alleging petty offences against juveniles, where inquiry has been pending and remains inconclusive for over a year, regardless of whether such juveniles have been produced before the Juvenile Justice Boards in Delhi, shall stand terminated with immediate effect.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights had recommended such a move saying “these children can’t wait forever to get justice”. According to Anurag Kundu, there were at that time 2773 children being tried for minor offences, 1282 for serious crimes and 1683 facing trial for heinous crime cases. “Now all those children against whom criminal cases have been squashed will be able to start life afresh.” The child rights protection body also contended that 1320 cases were pending since December 2020 in the six juvenile courts of the capital, a number that had increased to 1903 by June 2021.
Delhi’s child policing system
Delhi-based child rights lawyer Anant Kumar Asthana, who is also member of the NHRC’s Core Group on Children, however says he does not trust the NCRB data for policy formulation of juvenile crime and rehabilitation. “The reason is NCRB follows FIRs, and not all cases are registered, and not all offences by children are allowed to be registered as FIR,” says Asthana. “The NCRB data depends on how many entries are fed into the system”.
Asthana believes that the real numbers, available from agencies under the Women and Child Development ministry which has created the Juvenile Justice Boards, could be higher. “But I do not see those figures pointing towards Delhi’s juveniles as more criminally inclined, compared to Mumbai or other cities or states”.
“Delhi has the most robust child policing system in the country with six Juvenile Justice Boards, compared to just two in Mumbai,” says Asthana. “So the reporting of cases is very good and easy in the national capital, compared to other places; so the numbers will be higher.”
According to him, the fact that Delhi is easily accessible to youth from neighbouring states results in juveniles from outside Delhi coming here and committing a crime. “There are places around Delhi with deep-rooted delinquency. Many sadly look at committing a crime in Delhi as a stardom of sorts, have friends record videos of them being handcuffed and taken by the police and making them go viral. There are delinquents who are aspirational and Delhi puts the spotlight on them”.
He says he has yet to come across any study to establish that COVID and the consequent lockdown, closure of schools, colleges and work has actually led to juveniles taking to crime.
Parvin Kumar, an inspector patrolling East Delhi’s crowded traffic lights near Shahdara area told this correspondent that many of the chain snatchers he has caught are 16-17 years old and from the National Capital Region and not necessarily residents of Delhi. “They don’t go to school or college, they don’t have a job and their family members have no control over them,” says the police inspector. “And they want the latest bike, the latest smartphone, lots of money and the good life. And when they indulge in crime, they don’t think about the consequences”.
Whatever be the figures, and however robust the child policing in the national capital, there is concern over the fact that there is an increasing number of juveniles in conflict with the law. Though it must be said that police have been trying to rehabilitate juveniles indulging in crime, with the help of NGOs, by offering counselling and vocational training.
Juveniles in conflict with the law, 2021 (page 533)
- Number of cases pending disposal at the beginning of the year – 2856
- Juveniles apprehended during the year – 3287
- Total number of juveniles apprehended – 6143
- Juveniles released as cases did not occur/were quashed/discharged by courts – 376
- Juveniles sent home after admonition – 2651
- Juveniles sent to Special homes of appropriate institute- 746
- Juveniles dealt with fine – 82
- Juveniles awarded imprisonment – 1
- Juveniles acquitted or discharged – 349
- Percentage of juveniles held guilty – 90.9%
- Cases against juveniles pending disposal – 1938
Numbers of some of their offences:
- Attempt to murder-154
- Causing Hurt-227
- Assault on women with intent to outrage their modest-103
- Kidnapping and abduction-17
- Offences against property-1510
- The Information Technology Act-13