Although Tamil Nadu appears to be comparatively better placed with respect to juvenile crime than other States, psychologists say the trends are worrying enough.
The number of juvenile crimes in Tamil Nadu stood at 2,376 in 2017, a rate of 11.8 (number of incidences reported per lakh of population) compared to the national total of 33,606 and the crime rate of 7.5, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Criminal psychologists expect the numbers to go up rapidly in the future owing to the rapid techno-socio-economic changes that are disrupting the traditional social fabric.
The fragmentation of joint families, working parents not being able to give quality time, and infusion of adult material in young children through social media and the resulting urge to build that “rockstar” cult image, are putting pressure on the youngsters, making them vulnerable to committing crimes.
NCRB data shows that juvenile crimes in Tamil Nadu stood at 1,814 (2015), 2,217 (2016) and 2,376 (2017), showing a marginal increase over the years.
“Probably 30-40 per cent cases of juvenile crimes come to the notice of the police. Most delinquents are coming from well-to-do families. They drop names of some relative or other, high up in the government or political leadership, and get away. They come from powerful families," says D Mukherjee, former DGP, Tamil Nadu.
“In some cases, it starts as early as nine years of age. Over 30 of [every] 100 children are exposed to circumstances leading to juvenile delinquency. The number of juvenile crimes is many times more than official crime records, as most of these do not get reported by parents for fear of social stigma. Minor crimes are mostly settled by the aggrieved party and parents, and even if they are reported to police, they are resolved through unofficial compromises,” says Dr Hemapriya Karthik, professional counsellor and Zonal Director of the National Crime Investigation Bureau, and a member of the Tamil Nadu Psychology Association.
Some trends observed among juveniles who take to crime include an addiction to mobile phones, a strong urge to show a lifestyle beyond their parents’ means, early exposure to sexual content through social media on their smartphones, early drinking and smoking, peer pressure to show off the “dada” effect where they portray their daredevil image by committing crimes like snatching chains, rioting, physically hurting rival boys or assaulting girls who have rejected their overtures.
They also indulge in bike racing, overspeeding, rash driving and grievously hurting others. When money runs out, they resort to small burglaries and thefts.
“Increase in juvenile crimes is on account of indulgence of the parents, influence of films like Asuran and Nooravathu Naal that glorify the cult of violence, the laxity of Censor Boards, a culture of drinking at home that is imitated by young children, broken families, single parents trying to fulfil any demands of their children no matter what the costs could be. Social reform is required to control the increase in juvenile crimes. It has to be dealt by society,” adds Mukherjee.
Dr Hemapriya narrates a case when a 14-year-old asked his mother for money to buy weed (ganja). When the mother refused, a fight followed, after which the boy pushed his mother down. She died of a head injury. The boy took the money from his dead mother’s hand, bought weed and was found completely doped when his father returned home in the evening. Even as the father was wondering how to deal with the situation, an argument broke out and the son beat his father to death with a lamp-stand, under the influence of the drug. Now, he is serving his term in a juvenile home, regretting his actions. He has since tried several times to harm himself at the detention home. He knows that when he gets free, he will not be accepted by society or his family, leaving him the only option of a life of crime.
Juvenile homes run by the government do not have a healthy ecosystem; children apprehended are not looked after well and have inadequate physical space.
Excess juveniles are sent to jails meant for adults where they learn the dirty tricks of crime, and when they go out, they join other active gangs. The society is unforgiving, driving the children into a vicious crime circle.
“Juveniles near bus stands or railway stations are rounded up and put in sub-jails and eventually get convicted. In the process, they come in contact with hardened criminals and learn from them. They are producing criminals. These juveniles start by committing petty offences, then move on to higher classifications such as KD (Known Depredator), DC (Dossier Criminal) and then the HO (Habitual Offender) list. These are based on the property related offences filed as FIR. In earlier days, juveniles indulged in petty offences and were booked under the vagrancy law.
‘Rowdy Sheet’ (ers) basically comes under law and order category, ‘Suspect Sheet’ includes FIRs but where conviction is not required, and ‘History Sheet’ includes those where a regular track is kept of the criminals," a senior police official elaborated.
The police station crime records are in five categories that include registration of cases, crime-mapping (crime frequency spots), ex-convict register, village crime notebook (a comprehensive information book covering all aspects of village incidences like factions, communal rioting, fares and festivals, important cases, etc), and history sheets. Psychologists say that it all starts with “attention deficit” by parents who are not able to nurture a fulfilling environment at home. An emotional vacuum is created that the child fills up by getting involved in undesirable activities.
This syndrome cuts across classes. Schools are increasingly facing these problems but tend to put the onus on parenting, shying away from their impact on the child.
Early warning signs
- Unusual behaviour
- Shutting doors of his/her room
- Moving away to take phone calls from people unknown to you
- Aggressive behaviour with parents and non-interaction with family members over a long period of time
- Unusual demand for money
- Coming home too late in the night
- Smell of liquor on them
- Watch out for new expensive gifts like mobile phones, watches, sunglasses or branded clothes that have no known source
- Be watchful of new friends, especially if they are not the same age as the child, their frequency and time of visit
- Discuss without admonishing the child
- Listen to their conversations with their peers, without appearing suspicious
- Gifting mobile phones or motorbikes to children must be linked to duty-bound promises
- In case anything unusual is detected, consult a counsellor or psychologist
Juvenile crimes Reported in metros
- Parents, especially in smaller towns take pride in their young children’s prowess at handling smartphones, without realising that it may eventually turn out to be the source of undesirable behaviour
- Parents spoil young children by gifting them expensive smartphones, motorbikes and
- other such products to compensate for the time they are not able to spend with their children where both mother and father are working, or are single parents