Coarse correction vital
By Dr. S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
A shocking incident of a teenage murder two months ago at a school in Gurugram in the NCR has added urgency to deal with juvenile crime and justice which are becoming important aspects of children welfare and adolescents. The arrest of a Class XI 16-year old student for knifing a Class II 7-year old boy along-with another boy suspected to be his accomplice in the crime by the CBI has sent shockwaves.
Interestingly, the CBI’s findings are different from the earlier police investigations which put the blame on the school bus conductor, encapsulating the murder as child sexual abuse. As these offences are common, people believed the police.
Preliminary CBI investigations revealed that the student’s motive for murder, was to get the examinations postponed and the scheduled parent-teacher meeting cancelled. Undoubtedly, this is not only odd and perverse but reflects ill- prepared students state of mind to face examinations or teachers’ direct report to parents. Also, the murderer, whoever he be, had come prepared to commit the crime with a knife.
If the murder is proved, it will be a terrible case of juvenile crime and stark reality of vulnerability of children. Alas, teenage crimes including murder and victimization of children in all conceivable forms are growing in India along-with increasing demand for child rights, protection and genuine juvenile justice. When both the offender and the victim are minors, it becomes a challenge for law enforcing and judicial authorities to deal with the case without prejudice to everyone’s interests.
Besides, given the crime was committed in the school washroom it exposes the lack of elementary protection for children in schools which are expected to take care of the wards in their premises.
Alarmingly, crimes against children are growing in India. The National Crime Research Bureau reported nearly one lakh offenses in 2015 which included 1,758 murders. Kidnapping and abduction top the crime list with 41,893 registered cases followed by 14,913 sexual offences and 10,854 rapes.
Besides, there is no separate classification of offences against children or child abuse. Such offences in which children are victims are categorized as Crime Against Children. The Indian Penal Code and Local and Special Laws specifically mention 20 offences in which children are victims.
According to reports, the Delhi police receive about 20 calls every day pertaining to fights breaking out inside or around schools involving hot-headed students and drop-outs on an average. Further, many offences against children go unreported to avoid public gaze and gossip, irksome police questions and escape stigma attached to victims particularly in regard to sexual offences. What comes out are mostly cases of murder and abduction of boys.
Pertinently, child abuse is considered as a social problem only in recent years though child maltreatment is not a modern crime. Physical punishment of children, now shunned by most societies was common in ancient times. Infanticide, abolished by law in India, was practised in many other countries like Australia, China, Africa, and France to get rid of handicapped and unhealthy children.
Certainly, there is no dearth of a national policy and laws for the protection and welfare of children. But, they have not been effective in curbing child victimization with the result that we today face cases of crimes against children by children.
Questionably, are we going to deal with the Gurugram child murder case from the angle of crime against children or as a juvenile delinquent eligible for special treatment? Child activists and people with school-age children will naturally demand severe punishment for the murderer(s) with no consideration of his/their age.
Juvenile activists who are relentlessly advocating extra humane treatment for young offenders of even the most heinous crimes might seek application of special juvenile justice in the event of exposure of juvenile crime in this ghastly incident.
Both have valid points in their favour but whether any of them come to the rescue of vulnerable children or reform delinquent adolescents in society are open to debate.
Importantly, a vital amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act has reduced the age for trying a minor as an adult for serious crimes from 18 to 16 years. The Philippines Government tried to push a law in 2016 to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 in a bid to track drug traffickers who were using young boys as narcotic couriers. So serious is the problem of child vulnerability that children in schools and out of schools become easy targets of crimes and suitable shield for criminals.
Yet another feature of this capital lawlessness is the role of police in catching the culprit and its relationship with people of different status which have come under media and public scrutiny. Though it is common to all criminal investigations, child-related cases get additional significance.
In the Gurugram case the findings of the police and CBI are vastly different whereby there is convergence on only one fact: The student’s murder took place in a school. Moreover, it involves several social problems apart from the crime itself. Schools are becoming the venue for offences against children in many instances which raises the question of the responsibility of the school management in imparting character building of children and youth and for the safety of pupils.
Scandalously, child abuse and neglect are openly practised in India and numerous forms of exploitation of children are reported daily. Worse, laws are rarely implemented in full or in the right spirit. However, murder cases in schools, that too by a juvenile, are mostly unheard of.
Indeed, gun culture is foreign to students in India. In the US its Department of Education and Department of Justice publish an annual report on school crimes and safety of students covering data on victimization, teacher injury, bullying, school conditions, fights, weapons, and use of drugs and alcohol.
A similar data covering child abuse cases in our schools might be useful for improving our school environment from the point of student safety. Children and youth are exposed to various good and bad influences pervading across society. Consequently, it has become an urgent task to harness adolescent and youth energy into constructive thinking and socially productive activities so as to wean them away from crimes and unsocial behaviour.
A child’s murder is an extreme form of child abuse committed more by adults than children or youth. If it is a planned murder, its gravity is more than an unplanned kill caused by sudden provocation. If juvenile(s) are involved in the crime it is more dangerous for children’s future safety in schools.
Notably, physical harassment of children for disciplining them at home and in schools goes on as a matter of rights of parents and school authorities. Clearly, a lot of changes are required in our relationship with children. For, they cannot defend themselves and depend on healthy parenting, protective school environment and equalitarian administration of institutions. —— INFA