Last year when the nation was shocked over the gang-rape of a college girl on a moving bus in New Delhi, the fact that one of the accused was a juvenile had come as an added jolt.
The incident had led to widespread calls for review of the Juvenile Justice Act to enable a harsher punishment for juveniles involved in such serious crimes.
However, the Crime in India-2012 report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) a few days ago reveals that the involvement of a minor in the brutal rape in Delhi was not an isolated case.
Far from that, the police in the country had booked as many as 1,316 juveniles on rape charges the whole of last year. Another 685 minor boys were booked on charges of molestation.
Among the states, Madhya Pradesh had the highest reported juvenile sex offenders with 249 such cases. This was followed by Uttar Pradesh with 110 cases. In Tamil Nadu, 27 juveniles were booked on rape charges and 11 with molestation.
Experts say the abundant exposure children have these days could be one of the reasons behind the sexual crimes committed by them.
“As per our social norms a person can fulfill his sexual needs only after he gets married or attains the age of 18. But the biological needs always do not conform to the social norms. We can link this trend to the excessive exposure children have in this digital age. Corrosion of social values also leads to children finding it easy to give in to sexual urges rather than controlling it,” explains pschiatrist RS Venkatesan.
One of the 1,316 juvenile sexual offenders was a 13-year-old boy in Coimbatore who abused his five-year-old neighbour after luring her to a secluded place. When the girl’s mother rushed to her help on hearing her wails, the boy escaped after hitting the woman.
However, activists say it would be prejudicial to treat all juveniles in conflict with law as criminals. “Many juvenile sex offenders are themselves first victims. They - particularly street children and children in poor families - would have been repeatedly abused by others and turned into offenders over a period of time,” says activist A Narayanan.
The NCRB statistics appears to corroborate what Narayanan says. Statistics reveals that around 79 percent of the juvenile offenders in the country hail from families with an annual income of less than Rs 50,000. Around 53 percent of the juvenile offenders are from families with an annual income less than Rs 25,000.
Street children contribute to six percent of the juvenile offenders. Interestingly, 11 girl juveniles were also booked on charges of rape during 2012.