I had the occasion to attend a rather unconventional children’s day celebrations at a residential school for boys. The performers were aged anywhere between 8 and 18 years of age. As they put up various shows ranging from dramas to singing performances, everything about them was typical of a child of their age.
In fact one particular group song performance, involving children between ages 8 to 10 was well out of tune. When I inquired as to what led to a ill conceived yet adorable performance, I heard the boys missed their mothers so much that they refused to practise and it took a lot of work on the part of the counsellors to bring them around. The show concluded with all the kids dancing to the “Lungi dance”.
Even as you are probably going “aww”, at a typical children’s event, there is just one small fact I neglected to mention. The residential school I mentioned is actually the observation home for boys. The performers aged 8 to 18 were not just any kids, but children whose context and background, had pushed them to come in conflict with the law, with offences ranging from pick pocketing to rape and murder.
It is easy to call for the death of a child who has sometimes conflicted with the law in brutal and reprehensible fashion. But one really begins to wonder if societal opinion in respect of such juveniles can remain if they actually meet these children. After all, calling for the death sentence for juveniles is easier when they exist as concepts as opposed to real children. Meeting these children and watching them perform, served to humanise them and as I interacted with them, they were just like any other children and like with other children, one feels the need to provide them with a future which doesn’t involve violence.
Particularly with sexual offences, I have always found that the juvenile who has committed it has found himself exposed to some form of pornography or in other instances been subjected to abuse, neglect or trauma of some kind. In many instances, child sexual abuse of the juvenile in conflict with law, often is the precursor for the child committing the same offence on some other child. Sometimes when the child exhibits symptoms indicative of a violent streak, parents make excuses often failing to get the right treatment for the child in time.
If perhaps these children found themselves in better circumstances, with more comfortable means and attention and love, their lives would have been different. The same is true with adult offenders too. But adults know better, or are expected to know better. On the other hand, a child’s decisions and choices are often based on a combination of ignorance of consequences, raging hormones, non existence of role models and lack of exposure to a better life. Given that they lack the physical and mental maturity to introspect and reflect on their own, they cannot be expected to know better unless they are placed in an atmosphere of such kind.
Not too long back, the Week carried an article that showed a direct co-relation between the state’s investment in children and their propensity towards crime. It made a compelling observation, namely, that the more we paid attention and invested resources into our children, the less likely they are to offend. If, for example, the boy in the Nirbhaya incident was not forced to work as child labour due to abject poverty and if instead of remaining employed in a hotel, the labour department had swooped in and rescued him, would he have still committed rape on the victim?
But for that to have happened, a customer at the hotel must have been concerned enough to report the matter to the labour department. Why is it that we keep so strong an eye on our kids but turn a blind eye towards others? Who then, do we blame, for the child being in the observation home except ourselves?
The debate around whether age of juveniles should be reduced from 18 to 16, is not so much about punishment, as it is about collective social responsibility. Why are we not pointing fingers at the government for not investing enough in child protection schemes? Why are we not pointing fingers at parents for not monitoring a child’s time on the internet where he is likely to chance across pornography? Why do we leave the father or a teacher, unaccountable when he or she did not take the child to a counsellor in spite of clearly noticing signs of violent behaviour?
I suspect we go after juveniles, calling for their burning on the stake, because they can’t fight back, because a child’s voice can barely be heard. Its also easy, given that it saves us the trouble of taking responsibility for what came as a consequence of collective neglect and callousness. Juveniles in Conflict with law, sadly will always remain juveniles in conflict with law. Thanks to the law, we will never know their names, their innocence or their child like tantrums.
However, regardless of the law, we do not wish to know them, because they are the dirty little secret which we all know, namely, we hate our kids in this country and treat them like garbage, while we also celebrating children’s day, staying true to the tradition of hypocrisy. I am grateful that my own work brought me in touch with the Center for Child and Law, NLSIU, who have exposed me to this reality and made me aware of how we bear the burden of the child’s actions. As much as I fear, that the age will be reduced for juveniles from 18 to 16, I also know that this reduction will be arbitrary and a product of our ignorance and irresponsibility.
We all love children, or do we, really? Because it is easy to be warm and affectionate to an “obedient” and a “compliant” child. But the moment they transgress the boundaries set for them, we cry for blood not realising that a child’s behaviour is a product of the attention and behaviour he or she is subjected to.
True love for children calls for an honest reflection of our role in their transgressions and the courage to correct ourselves to set an example for them. On that note, Happy Children’s day!
Read More By Ashok G.V.
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