Juvenile Delinquency: Nature, Causes and Interventions
Mr. Vivyn Mathew
In recent years, reports of children involved in heinous crime is gaining much pubic attention. This has made the legal term “juvenile delinquency” more familiar to people. Though it is an important subject in the study of criminology and law, it is now studied by various disciplines and people who are engaged in working with children. Of late, there is desire arising for a factual estimation of the problem to help prevent such eventualities. Criminal behavior is taking serious forms among the children. It is a global phenomenon, a sign of sick society.The National Crime Records Bureau's data shows that in the past decade, the rate of juvenile offences has steadily increased. In 2004, the rate for juvenile crime was 1.77 incidents per lakh of population. It had risen to 2.58 by 2013.This malady is growing in alarming proportions and is awakening call that our Children needs much attention and care.
'Juvenile' is a child who cannot be held responsible for his criminal act. The word delinquency is comes from the Latin word “delinquere” meaning “die away” and 'linquere' means 'to leave' or 'to abandon'. Juvenile Delinquency is an act or a behavior by
a child that is considered socially undesirable up to a level of breaking the law of the country. It can also be seen as a purposeful defiance of children to perform behaviour as expected of them by the society.
The age criteria for being a juvenile vary internationally. In India , Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 defined juvenile or child, who in case of a boy not above the age of 16 years and in case of a girl 18 years of age. This was amended with Juvenile Justice Act 2000 , that cited distinction of age between male and female juveniles needs to be done away, and the age of juvenile was made till 18 years to hold on to international obligations. In the recent amendment of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, enforceable from January 15 2016, permits children aged 16 to 18 years in conflict with law can be tried as adults in cases of heinous Offences.
A larger problem
Juvenile delinquents or children in conflict with law are only a small visible part of a larger problem. Children in conflict with law, who by virtue of the acts they commit, need custody of the legal process. The children in legal custody are a few representations of deviant antisocial behaviour when compared with the large majority of children in society exhibiting conduct problems. Understanding juvenile delinquency asks for the understanding of the nature of prevalence and manifestation of such child hood conduct problems or disorders. This refers to an array of child, parent, family, contextual environmental conditions and interplay among them.
Conduct disorders are a group of behavioral problems. They are commonly seen as a prolonged pattern of anti-social and aggressive behaviors that are either performed against others or activities done in defiance to major societal norms, or both. Apart from these core behaviors children with conduct problems may also display related issues like troubled Mood, withdrawn behaviors, impulsive violent behaviors towards animals or others, exhibiting high risk behaviors of using substance, etc. Many of the children may have academic deficiencies, specific reading disorders, language delays, learning disability, problems in information processing and difficulties in problem solving skills. This can result in poor interpersonal relationships with others.
The argument whether it is heredity or is it the environment that is responsible for the causation of delinquency is valid. To understand criminal behavior in children Sociologists, Psychologists, Physicians, Philosophers, Lawmen and common men have come out many theories and explanations. Each theorist explains delinquency from the view point of their discipline. They try to explain that, problems in conduct and criminal behaviours are related to each other, and one cannot not understand it without knowing the other. Various sources have come out with many views, opinions, criticisms, and proposition about the causes of delinquency and crime, but these views still remains unconnected with each other. However, most explanations recognizes that delinquency and crime cannot be explained in terms of a single causative factor. These are problems stemming out due to interaction between the multiple factors.Some of the most valid explanation on causation are as follows.Examination of the records and history of children in institutional care because of delinquency clearly shows the involvement of multiple causative factors. In most of the cases faulty child development, poor economic conditions and unhealthy family atmosphere were found to be underlying factors.
Individual factors mainly seen as causative factors are physical illness, sub-normal intelligence, bad company, adolescent instability and impulses, early sex experiences, alcohol and drug intoxication, mental conflicts, excessive social suggestibility and impressionability, Peer Pressure, love of adventure and sensation, rising standards of living and aspirations for the same, nonattendance of school, school dissatisfaction, poor recreation, increase of leisure time, street life and vocational dissatisfaction. Genetic loading and abnormalities due biochemical imbalance, and metabolites are also considered as potential causative factors . These factors can lead the adolescent to aggression, rebelliousness, bitterness, distrustful, Obstinate, unconventional and non submissive behaviors to authority and even criminal acts. These problem behaviors are highly related to prevalence of delinquency. If these risk factors are appears earlier, there is also a higher risk for delinquency. Hyperactivity seen in children is also implicated with the onset of conduct problems.
Conduct problems forms a major reason for referral for psychiatric evaluation of children and adolescents. Conduct issues peaks in early adolescence. In adolescence, boys exhibit more aggression, and girls tend to exhibit more covert crimes.
Family plays a very important part in developing deviant behavior in children. It is families that greatly influence persons, because the basic sense of belonging is attached with the family. All families have different interaction patterns within themselves and so have their own ways of molding individuals. The behavior and personality of children gradually evolves in conformity to their particular family patterns. Children easily imbibe every thing the family stands for. The belief systems, value systems, thinking patterns, adjustment patterns and all impact children to great extent. The standards that the elders set while maintaining interaction within the family and also with the outside world to fulfill their needs and of the family plays a big role in child's adjustment and functioning in the outside world. Criminal tendencies can pass on to children either genetically or by finding their parents or family members behaving or having an attitude that encourages deviant behaviors.
Certain situations within the family puts children in increased risk of exposure to deviance and crime. Children live in families with difficult circumstances due to death, divorce, or desertion of parent. They live and grow in broken families, single parent families, families that are headed by children or grandparents or distant relatives. These circumstances make them vulnerable to face or even become an easy victim to criminality. Parental ignorance about effective parenting or dysfunction in families can lead to lack parental control or too much of control over children paving way for deviant behaviour in children. Substance and drug use in family, psychiatric illness, marital discord, child abuse, neglect, poor parenting, frequent quarrels among parents, unreasonable dominance of one over the other, frequent births in the family, immoral lives in parents, poverty and deprivation, low income or parent’s long absence from home can add on to the danger of children being exposed to deviant behavior and crime.
Environment molds the children as they grow by providing space and support. The interaction with the community creates social norms and structural conditions that the children utilizes for their growth. Delinquent behaviors, like most social behaviors, are learned in the process of social interaction. It is the result of this interaction between the their immediate surroundings and economic factors that determines the child’s behavior. Most of the adult criminals committed first offence in their childhood, long before their first conviction as adult offender. Their status of being a child then helped them to escape from their first offence. It might have encouraged them to commit further offence till they were apprehended, tried and convicted.
Around the world many children are growing in difficult circumstances such as hopeless poverty, broken and chaotic homes, slums, in the midst of choking pollution, facing abuses, lack of security giving rise to a constant need to either defend and fight .
On the other end.,in contrast to this, there is fortunate children with better clothes, food, entertainment facilities, and may have economic independence. Even though there is a large gap in terms of reality between these two group of children, a good role model who can mentor them is very rare for children in both these circumstances in present day situations. They are surging forward by creating their own meaning in a world .They see violence as a state policy is Justified by elders and also by governments, creating neighborhoods of displaced people, refugees, filled with bloodshed, strife, orphaned children and families, persons with disabilities. They are growing up with a deep to master the present times where ethics, values and ideals are altered. Well-being is measured in the ability to meet immediate gratification of needs, power over others, mindless indulgence of pleasure and magnified visibility in the virtual world.
Juvenile delinquency is attributed to environmental conditions of weakening human relations, using children to do wrong things by luring or by threatening them, wrong influence of mass and social Media, social change due to social disorganization and cultural conflict, neighborhood with crimes of various nature, displacement due to war or calamities, migration of families with children in search of livelihood in thickly inhabited areas. Towns and cities that offer frequent opportunities for various Offences and crimes relating to theft, burglary, Kidnapping, cheating, deceit etc.
The study on the nature and cause of Juvenile delinquency is meaningful when we devise suitable methods of intervention. The wideness of the spread of factors influencing and causing delinquency demands diverse strategies and approaches. The first priority will be to prevent children turning delinquent and subsequently help children, their families and care givers, as they are struggling to come out of this difficult problem. This requires action in the personal, familial/care giving and environmental domains.
Even though the magnitude and impact of the issue is frightening, there are effective strategies, action plans and treatment methods that is proven helpful. Preventive measures and wide ranging, treatment or curative measures for helping the children are presented.
Identifying the deviant behaviour and initiating interventions at the earliest will help children and families. If the nature of behavioral patterns and its progressive course are recognized early then early interventions can be implemented. Effective psychological evaluation and assessments available to understand the psychological makeup of children. This will minimize occurrence of serious behavioral problems or criminal acts. The treatment in the earlier phase can prevent larger monetary, social, emotional losses. Early intervention can also bring vulnerable children to safe environments with effective care giving. Protective reach out and and care from helping professionals can help in reduction of adverse eventualities of violence. This will help to minimize burden on family and caregivers as simple remediation approach can be undertaken. Uninformed and ill-conceived treatments do more harm than good.
There is no single best treatment approach. Treatment approaches needs to be tailor made according to the problems of the juvenile. The best evaluated treatment or counseling approaches for the conduct disorders are based on learning principles. It encourages relearning correct behaviors by removing the present faulty behaviors patterns. Establishing clear behavioral goals, facing consequences for inappropriate behavior, consistent monitoring through encouragement and demand to perform the desired behavior, correcting through methods like prompting, modeling and role playing etc can bring in desired behaviour in children.
Interventions like Medication, Psychotherapy, Play therapy and task based approaches are used effectively. Increasing friendly interactions between parents and children through promotion of play, using appropriate praise and incentives together with effective limit-setting, and using of positive responses can improve situation. These approaches can enhance care givers to guide responses to tackle interpersonal situation, amend cognitive problem-solving skills, correct deficiencies in thought processes and help the child to achieve pro-social behaviors. Problem-solving skills can be increasingly applied into real-life situations where children can be taught to direct their attention to aspects of the problem and not to project aggression on others. Active participation of the therapist or a counselor can bring out positive outcome to help the child. Apt interventions will to heighten the positive growth factors such as improved IQ, easy temperament, ability to relate well to others, good work habits, areas of competence outside school, good interpersonal relation at least with one parent or adult.
The symptoms or disorders in children talk volumes about the conditions at home, particularly the unspoken neglected wants and needs of the family. Parents of children with deviant behavior need help. The symptoms or problems in children mostly brings parents together. Family therapy is advocated in most cases. It is useful in increasing better interaction patterns by improving communications between parent to child and parent to parent. It will help in lowering blaming and negative attributions, and increase mutual support between each other. Family therapy will also help to better problem solving, helping family members to come closer to resolve crisis, foster better care between each other, and thereby help the family members as a system to decrease vulnerability to delinquency.
Interventions are also needed for care givers in institution and school teachers, police officers, community members and others involved in dealing with children.Training is needed in identification of deviant children, ensuring safety and harm reduction. Training is also needed on techniques in altering child behavior, contingency management, skills training, ethical handling. Upholding the rights of the children are to be advocated.
Church has a big role in preventing delinquency and helping vulnerable children. The ability and scope of church in intervening for the children is unmatchable and is the need of the hour. Local congregations can raise to the occasion in their own localities to pronounce care and protection of children with delinquency and also to the children living in difficult circumstances. Activities to identify vulnerable children and their families, coordinate activities for prevention delinquency and abuse can be undertaken. Providing personalized care and support to children and their families, conduct sensitization programs to prevent, remediate and to ensure inclusion and participation of everyone in the community to make it resilient to delinquency can be worked out.
Children are our greatest asset and resource. Children should be allowed and provided best opportunity to grow. Children who are physically fit, mentally alert and morally healthy, endowed with skills and activation will transform societies. Equal opportunities for development to all children during the period of growth should be provided for reducing inequality and ensuring social justice, which in turn would serve as an effective tool to curb delinquency in juveniles.