Reform criminally juvenile

juvenile reform homes

Juvenile homes across India are certified hellholes from where, very often, not reformed but hardened criminals emerge. SANGEETA YADAV does a reality check of some correctional facilities to bring you sordid home truths of apathy, mismanagement & violence

There is no remorse, no element of fear in juvenile delinquents sent to reform homes. If anything, they come out more vicious, more strong willed and much more vengeful. This so called reformed juvenile is a greater danger to the society

— Bharti Ali, founder & co-director, Haq, centre for child rights

Opinions may be violently against the view that a juvenile with a criminal bent of mind, like the one recently convicted in the Nirbhaya gangrape case, can be reformed, but fact is that once such bad elements are put through our reform homes, whatever little hope there might be to draw them back into the lawful mainstream dies a fast death.

Report after report on correctional facilities for juveniles across India has been almost unanimous in its verdict — these homes are mismanagement cesspools of bad hygiene, lawlessness, crime, exploitation and brewing revolts. From sexual assaults of the inmates, to dingy rooms, to only-on-paper reform measures to anger, angst and arson — there is nothing that is right here.

Even the January 2013 Justice Verma Committee report, instituted for possible amendments in law in the wake of the Nirbhaya gangrape case, states that in the absence of requisite infrastructure and the right environment to reform delinquents at juvenile homes, we’re only breeding more criminals.“Our jails don’t have reformatory and rehabilitation policies… We, therefore, breed more criminals, including juveniles, by ghettoing them in juvenile homes,” it states.

The just-turned 18 killer-rapist who is out after being an undertrial for five years, made headlines recently by threatening the victim’s family (he had raped a girl and cut her body into pieces) of a repeat performance, this time on their younger daughter!

“You see, each case has to be treated as per the severity of the crime committed. Given the situation of reformatory homes in India today, there is 100 per cent chance that a juvenile will not come out clean from special reformatory home. What sense does it then make to send underage rapists and other serious offenders to a home for three years when they aren’t going to benefit from it? Most of the juvenile delinquents that I’ve mentored have been involved in serious crimes after having served time at the reformatory home. They are now lodged in Tihar Jail, booked for heinous crimes,” Chandra Suman, advocate at POCSO and former member of the Juvenile Justice Board, reveals.

Ask him what’s the solution to this glaring problem and he asserts “reforming the special homes and observatory homes is the need of the hour.” Before a court sends a juvenile delinquent to such a home, it should analyse whether, at all there is any possibility of reform there. “The conditions are seriously pathetic,” he asserts.

Nirbhaya’s rapist and killer will be spending 28 months at the Majnu Ka Tila juvenile home, which most child activists and NGOs admit privately is the most mismanaged one in the Capital. Not that others are any better. Crumbling infrastructure, decrepit hygiene, sub-standard food and no outdoor facilities make these homes hellholes.

“We can’t enter a reform home without permission but I did manage to speak with some inmates after they went gone on a rampage last month. Although it appeared to be a random act of vandalism, the juveniles said they acted out of desperation and depression. The conditions they described were pathetic,” Sindhu Pillai, DCP North, who looked into the widespread arson at the Majnu Ka Tila reformatory, recalls.

One look at the dilapidated facility makes you sure something dark and murky is happening here. Neighbouring residents talk of often hearing screams and cries from its premises in the dead of night.

“In winter nights, when the silence is more, pleas of help by inmates being beaten up can be heard more clearly,” a resident not willing to be identified reveals.

“There are three segregated facilities — place of safety (where the Nirbhaya rapist is lodged), observatory home (for undertrial juveniles who have committed petty crimes) and a special home (for serious offenders). None has adequate lighting, there is a continuous stench emanating from the toilets and the walls are opening wide thanks to seepage. There is hardly any open space for inmates to participate in outdoor games. There was no mental healthcare plan nor any targeted counselling or psychological intervention in place,” the recent inspection report (preliminary) of the Majnu Ka Tila facility by National Commission For Protection of Child Rights and its Delhi counterpart DCPCR states.

Add to these dire conditions, constant boredom and you’ve a cocktail for a juvenile shaping up into a hardened criminal. With not much productive work to be done, delinquents plummet to recidivism (repeating the crime).

“There is nothing for the inmates to do. They have no routine to follow, no jobs to do. They just hang around and watch TV.  These juvenile often sneak in gutkas and other drugs into the home. During inspections, the officers have recovered mobile phones with porn clips on them from some of the inmates. What makes it worse is that there are no regular mental healthcare plan and intervention provided to them,” Haq’s Ali tells you.

Needless to say, all this has a very serious impact on a delinquent.

“These are impressionable youngsters. Put them in a condition like this and recidivism chances are high. Mostly, when they finish their time at a shelter home, they commit bigger crimes and become more violent and aggressive,” Dr Sameer Parekh, director of mental health, Fortis Healthcare, says.

Dr Parekh believes the only way to go for reformists to tackle the violent deviance of the Nirbhaya accused is to give him intense counselling and perhaps keep him with a peer group with lesser history of crime. The impact of the reform home, he says, manifests itself at a later date.

Take the 1996 Jhansi murder. Fifteen year-old Akash Sehgal, sent to a reform home in Agra for murdering 56-year-old Aarti Dua, was released from the home in 1999. In January 2001, he (then 19) raped and brutally assaulted a 23-year-old college girl near Moradabad. He is at large.

In a nation where more than 64 per cent crimes are committed by juveniles in the 16-18 age group (NCRB record), activists say that the percentage of juvenile crime recidivism is extremely high.

As many as 77.2 per cent (1,75,046) of recidivists (2,26,729) during 2012 were those who were convicted once in the past.

“We don’t have a mechanism in place for an accurate reading on juvenile recidivism as Rule 98 of the Delhi Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rule, 2009, allows juvenile records to be maintained only for seven years and then destroyed. What if the then juvenile-now-adult commits a heinous crime after seven years? There is no record of his previous crime and he is treated as a fresh offender under adult law,” Ali points out.

Apart from the dire physical conditions, reform activities at these homes are next to nil. Under law, an individual care plan is to be prepared for every juvenile. A morning to night activity schedule is to be prepared too. Counselling, vocational education and training and a psychological health plan are to be put in place. When the juvenile is sent to the special home, this plan goes with him/her to the home’s superintendent.

“In most cases, however, this plan is not prepared or followed so there is no question of any reform happening. And, in a few cases where the plan is made, the superintendent junks it. This is true of both pre-release and post-release care plans,” Chandra Suman, tells you.

Then there is abuse and exploitation of juveniles. According to one report, child abuse within reform homes has skyrocketed by 178 per cent! Of these, 150 per cent victims are boys made to perform unnatural sex. According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights report titled India’s Hell Holes: Child Sexual Assault in Juvenile Justice Homes: “Thirty nine cases of repeated sexual assault on inmates were discussed. Of these, 11 were reported from Government-run juvenile homes, committed by staff or/and senior inmates”.

Just this March, a seven-year-old HIV positive boy claimed that he was sexually abused by the security guard and older inmates at the Ashiana Home for Boys in Alipur. He claimed that three inmates sexually abused and harassed him daily.

In September 2012, the police registered a case of sodomy against four inmates and two staffers of a State-run shelter for children in Goa for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old inmate. In the FIR, the boy alleged that during his two months’ stay at this home, he was sexually assaulted several times by the accused but no action was taken by the officials concerned despite them being in the know.

“Blame the system. There is a big dichotomy in what’s prescribed and what’s implemented. A State guardian’s duty is to ensure that reform homes are habitable and safe places where a juvenile learns positive things. Nothing like that for now,” Ali says.

When it comes to reform, sensitive counsellors are crucial but there is a huge skill gap here.

“Not just the counsellors, but even superintendents and special juvenile police unit should have proper training in dealing with juvenile criminals. The reality, however, is sordid. Almost all are untrained. The Government expects a welfare officer to play counsellor. The conditions at juvenile homes in the Capital are still better than other States where they are the worst place to send anyone, leave alone a juvenile delinquent. Change the system, then the reform homes and then amend the juvenile justice system,” Atiya Bose, director of Aangan NGO working for child protection, suggests.

Human rights activists argue that the real issue that needs attention is not the legal age of a juvenile but the state of reform homes. Whatever the age, do these reform homes help in reforming any juvenile in conflict with law? Are juveniles given a chance to reform? Can correctional facilities ensure that delinquents don’t turn into adult criminals, they ask collectively.

Advocate Ananth Asthana talks of a 360 degree approach.

“For bettering juvenile homes, we need funding. The Government doesn’t provide enough for child care. According to the HAQ: Centre For Child Rights, in 2010 and 2011, 7.2 per cent of Government funds went for education, 2.6 for health and only 1.3 for child care and protection. The Government is spending less than 2 per cent of its budget on child protection. Lack of finances and facilities, despite an Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) is strange and needs to be amended if we want to see any reform happening,” he adds, talking of external investments too.

Trial of abuse

  • On March 26, 2013, four girl inmates ran away from the Bethel Children Home in Titrudih, Chhattisgarh. In an FIR, they claimed they were starved, beaten up and sexually abused. The home’s director and warden arrested. An inspection confirmed the charge
  • On March 19, 2013, a 17-year-old juvenile in conflict with law complained to a magistrate during an inspection of the Kuldabad Juvenile Home in Allahabad that he was being sodomised and beaten up by fellow inmates. Nine inmates were found to be involved and booked.
  • On March 13, 2013, Delhi Police informed the High Court that the security guard of the Ashiana Home for Boys in Alipur, Delhi, had been sacked after a seven-year-old HIV positive boy claimed he was sexually abused by him and older inmates.
  • On September 29, 2012, a case of sodomising a 10-year-old inmate was registered against four inmates and two staffers of a State-run shelter home in Goa. The victim was repeatedly abused during his two months stay at the Home but no action was taken by officials.
Whither lies the problem?
  • Crumbling buildings falling apart due to seepage. The Majnu Ka Tila home was an armoury in British Raj. Rooms are dark and dingy with no lighting. Absolutely no ventilation vents.
  • Shameful hygiene and substandard food. In some homes, there is no designated bath area or even a toilet. The juveniles are asked to use the nearby fields or a pond.
  • No activity plan. Provision for vocational coaching etc seldom used and delinquents wander around aimlessly.
  • No individual care capsules. Law provides them but home superintendents shove them into waste bins.
  • Extreme and frequent sexual abuse and other forms of physical torture of inmates. Delhi homes record most such sexual crimes and more often than not, offenders are people in the system.
  • Slim funds and underutilisation. Whatever little is allocated doesn’t reach specific homes and NGOs
  • No records to track recidivism in juvenile cases.
  • Untrained juvenile officers. The Government appoints welfare officers on contract. They either get their salary very late or are not paid for months and quit. Basically by the time they get trained, they leave
  • Difficult for inmates’ parents to get permits of visit them. This affects a juvenile psychologically.
  • Inspections rare. Apart from an inspection committee, there’s need for a management committee with members from the neighbourhood, marketing associations and NGOs.

(The article was published in the Pioneer Newspaper on .


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