By Chaitanya Mallapur*
Rape is the fastest-growing crime among juveniles; 86 percent of teens arrested for various crimes come from poor families, only six percent were homeless and less than six percent were girls, crime data for the last 10 years reveals.
Arrests of juveniles in the 16-18 age-group increased 60 percent from 2003 to 2013, the highest among all three juvenile age groups, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a division of the home ministry.
Juvenile arrests for rape rose 288 percent over this period and arrests for theft increased 68 percent, the data showed.
Contrary to popular belief that juveniles from broken homes commit the most crimes, 81 percent of teens arrested in 2013 lived with their parents, the data revealed.
The figures lend perspective to an unfolding national debate around a cabinet decision to enact a law that proposes trying juveniles as adults.
The demand for such a law arose after a 17-year-old was sentenced to three years in a reform facility after he and five others gang-raped and battered a physiotherapy student in a Delhi bus on December 16, 2012.
The proposed law provides that in the case of heinous crimes committed by adolescents aged 16 to 18, for examination by a Juvenile Justice Board to assess if the suspect should be regarded as a child or an adult.
Children living with parents committed most crimes
As mentioned earlier, juveniles living with parents accounted for more than 80 percent of arrests – 35,244 in 2013, according to the NCRB report.
No more than 2,462, or six percent, of juveniles arrested in 2013 were homeless and 5,800 lived with guardians.
Seventy-seven percent of juveniles arrested in 2013 belonged to poor families with annual incomes up to Rs 50,000.
As many as 8,392 juveniles arrested were illiterate and 13,984 had gone to primary schools.
When juveniles arrested are beyond the law
As many as 379,283 minors were arrested in the period 2003-13 under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and special and local laws, according to the NCRB.
In 2013, 28,830 kids between the ages of 16 and 18 were arrested under IPC and special and local laws, comprising 66 percent of juvenile arrests in India.
Of 43,506 juveniles arrested in 2013, 1,867 (4.3 percent) were girls. Over 10 years from 2003 to 2013, 357,935 boys and 21,348 girls were arrested.
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra lead in teen arrests
From 2003 to 2013, Madhya Pradesh reported 75,037 arrests of juveniles followed by Maharashtra with 72,154 arrests.
In 2013, 43,506 juveniles were arrested. Maharashtra, with 8,012 juvenile arrests, ranked first, followed by Madhya Pradesh (7,365), Tamil Nadu (3,142), Andhra Pradesh (3,133) and Rajasthan (2,882).
The number of juveniles arrested on rape charges rose 288 percent, as we said, from 535 in 2003 to 2,074 in 2013. As many as 10,693 juveniles were arrested on rape charges over 10 years from 2003 to 2013.
Similarly, arrests on the charge of assaulting a woman “with intent to outrage her modesty (section 354 IPC)” and “insult to modesty of women (sec 509 IPC)” rose 117 percent compared to the previous year.
Most juveniles were arrested for theft in 2013: 7,969 of them.
Over to parliament
Parliament will now decide if juveniles can be tried as adults.
One of the major amendments include removal of a clause in the law that relates to the trial of a person above the age of 21 years as an adult for committing serious offences when the person was between the ages of 16 and 18.
The amendment also increases the period of preliminary inquiry by the Juvenile Justice Board in case of heinous offences committed by children aged 16 to 18.
The amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014, will be introduced in the current session of Parliament.
(In arrangement with Indiaspend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public-interest journalism platform, with which Chaitanya Mallapur is a Policy Analyst. The views expressed are personal)