June 2022 | The Bread of Life

Juvenile Issues of Today
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Juvenile Issues of Today

Mr. Biju Thampy

The fear in Komal’s (name changed to protect her identity) eyes was evident as she asked one of our team if she could talk to them. This conversation happened 4 months ago in one of Mumbai’s poorest slums, where thousands of families live cramped up in tiny tin sheds without toilets, with flies and mosquitoes hovering over heaps of garbage spread out as far as the eye can see. Alarmingly, the young boys gambling and doing drugs, rampant crime and the tension in the atmosphere is something that people have gotten used to. The shocking revelations that emerge from the conversation with Komal, leads to her being rescued out of her uncle’s home where she was being abused. Komal had been repeatedly raped and sexually exploited for the past 4 years ever since the untimely death of her parents’. The accused was apprehended and placed behind bars while Komal was placed in a safe house. Me being a pastor and social activist had a ton of questions in my mind which I want to use as the basis for this article. 

Is this a result of the failure of our system? 

Is the church supposed to be concerned? Or should we be focussed on just our own sunday school and our church kids? 

Has justice been done to Komal by arresting her molester and keeping her in a safe home? 

Can juvenile crime be addressed without addressing the issue of child protection, parenting, education etc etc??? 

The questions go on. I do not for a minute pretend to have figured out the answers to all these questions. My intention, on the other hand, is to provoke your thinking, get you to ask more questions so that we can come to meaningful conclusions that can provide long lasting solutions. 

If Komal was left to continue in her unhealthy, dysfunctional environment, in a state of constant abuse, being deprived of her basic human rights, would it be surprising if she turns out to be a criminal offender? If she was caught in an act of crime, would she solely responsible for the crime? Isn't her family member who abused her, the community who ostracised her, the government which was blissfully unaware of her need and the Church, which is God’s government on earth, who ignored our responsibility toward her equally responsible for her actions? Why should Komal alone go to a Juvenile detention centre? Just thinking aloud!

I work with such children and my experiences and findings through personal interactions with juvenile law breakers and their families have led me to take a more compassionate approach towards the child. The picture of the two young boys that you see have been the most heart breaking and challenging situations for me. Our team found them behind CS Terminal in Mumbai. They were both addicted to drugs and were dying on the streets when we saw them. They had open wounds in their bodies and were being eaten alive by maggots. Whenever they would wake up, their friends would come and let them take another sniff so that they would go back to sleep. By the time we got our ambulance to where they were, one of them died. We took the other child to the hospital and admitted him unfortunately, he died after 3 weeks. My question is, does this reality need to exist when the church is in existence? I have always believed that we need to be arms and legs of Jesus, ready to help, heal and go where the need is the greatest.

Before we get down to how we can help a delinquent child I would like to give you a little background on these otherwise misunderstood children. Juvenile delinquency is the habitual committing of criminal offences by a young person, especially one below the age at which ordinary criminal prosecution is possible. Which means such children are usually below the age of 18 and if found responsible for a crime are kept in a juvenile detention centre. Such centres will have minors who have committed heinous crimes along with those who have committed petty misdeamours. This unfortunately sets the stage for a highly volatile environment for these youngsters.

What are some of the causes of Juvenile delinquency? 

Dysfunctional families 

According to Article 21 (a) of the Indian Constitution all children between the ages of six to fourteen should be provided with free and compulsory education. Article 45 states that the state should provide early childhood care and education to all children below the age of six. Lastly Article 51(k) states the parents/guardians of the children between the ages of six and fourteen should provide them with opportunities for education. It is therefore of the highest importance that parents of children make every effort to ensure their children receive education and get equipped for life on every level. Many a time, in homes where both parents are working hard to make a living the children are overlooked and even neglected. Very often issues they face at school or at home even, which will need the intervention of parents will go unnoticed and as a result the child suffers. Incorrect parenting too can cause delinquency later on in children where they find one parent disagreeing with the method used to discipline the child by the other parent. These kind of inconsistencies on a regular basis can confuse the child and ultimately create an air of tension and rebellion at home. 

Broken homes

Homes that are riddled with discord and tension stemming from marital problems can be potential hot spots for the breeding of troubled children. Constant bickering and arguing can wear down even the most resilient child. Children as a result suffer from severe insecurity and begin to act out to attract their parents attention. Separation and divorce can severely affect children who inevitably blame themselves for their parents' problems. 

Exposure to inappropriate media

The access to media and technology as easy as it has become is a deadly black-hole where many a child and adolescent can get irreversibly pulled in. Online chat rooms, violent online gaming, social media with easy access to pornographic material and the ever present world of movies draw youngsters in and transport their sponge-like minds into an alternate world. A world where luxury is easy to come by, hard work is scoffed at, sexuality is a business transaction and love is a colourful and musical fantasy. Children lose a grip on reality and time that should be spent on enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood is wasted, never to be got back. 

Absence of healthy recreation

Gone are the days when children play in their backyards or run through fields or even just climb a tree. With the ever increasing violence against children it is no longer a safe option to allow children to play in the great outdoors alone or without adult supervision. That being said children are now confined to their televisions, computers or after school tuition centres to the extent wherein their right brain, the creative centre of their brain, doesn't receive adequate stimulation. In place of the imaginary games that ruled our childhoods, children today have everything handed to them straight. The joy of make-believe and creative play are a thing of the past. I have noticed in the years of my work that children when given proper, creative and healthy recreation, such as sport, art or music, thrive and they discover purpose outside of themselves and their problems. It gets them involved on every level and enables them to really thrive rather than just survive.

For us to comprehend the importance of a child's well-being it is important that we understand how Jesus saw children and how he treated them. During the time that Jesus lived, children were not valued as actual humans but were rather tolerated and looked at as commodities. The premise of children 'being seen and not heard' was very prominent. Jesus created a dent in that theory when he urged his disciples to bring the children to him. His disciples were attempting to send the children away with the parents who brought them in an attempt to save Jesus the trouble of dealing with tiny little runny-nosed, germ laden human beings (just letting my imagination go wild). But Jesus would not hear of it. The bible says, He kept the children on his knees and blessed each of them and if that wasn't enough he exhorted his disciples to be child-like in faith and trust in order for them to enter His kingdom. Jesus continued on to say that if anyone caused one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for them to tie a millstone around their neck and fall into the sea rather than the severe judgement they would receive on the other side of eternity. So high was the value that Jesus placed on children. 

We, as his sons and daughters, collectively his church, ought to place the same kind of value and honour on children. Not just our children but the children in our respective worlds. 

The oft quoted African proverb which says 'It takes a village to bring up a child'  is entirely true. Every child's life counts. Irrespective of the child's religion, caste or background. I urge you to begin taking a second look at children around you. See how you can help them. It could be your maid's child or the milk man's kid or that troubled teen across the street. It could be financial help you provide to see a deserving child receive life-changing education. It could be placing a teen in rehab so that his future is bright and filled with hope. It could be raising your voice to stand up and protect an abused girl who otherwise would never be heard. Juvenile delinquency can end with us if only we would stand up, voice out and be the change.  

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