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New Delhi, Nov 30: Is it a mockery of law and order or a message for lawmakers to make juvenile offences more stringent to curb minors indulging in crime? Recent Delhi Police data shows that in the last ten months, juveniles - those below 18 - committed an average of six crimes daily.
The data reveals that 1,727 criminal cases - including snatching, robbery, dacoity, attempt to murder, murder and rape - were committed by juveniles between Jan 1 and Oct 31. Robbery was the most common crime with 412 cases reported across the city. Dacoity was the second most common (360) followed by burglary (145).
The data, accessed by IANS, suggests that juveniles were also involved in heinous crimes with 111 cases reported in 10 months. Juveniles were also booked in 70 murder and 74 attempt to murder cases.
Furthermore, juveniles were involved in 480 other criminal cases. The data shows that juveniles between 16 and 18 years were involved in more than 60 percent of the cases.
This year's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data has also revealed that of the 43,506 crimes registered against minors under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Special Local Law (SLL), 28,830 had been committed by those between the ages of 16 and 18.
The number of juveniles found to be in conflict with law under the IPC and the SLL has risen 13.6 percent and 2.5 percent respectively in 2013 as compared with 2012, the NCRB said.
In August, the union cabinet had suggested a change in the juvenile law and according to the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2014, juvenile boards will have the power to decide if 16- to 18-year-olds accused in rape and murder cases should be tried as children or as adults.
Currently, if the accused are found to be under 18 years of age, they are tried by the Juvenile Justice Board and, if convicted, sent to a juvenile home for three years. An adult convicted of rape faces a life term and the death sentence in case of a repeat offence.
The issue of how juveniles ought to be punished has come to the fore due to the infamous Dec 16, 2012, gang-rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old woman physiotherapist who later died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital where she had been airlifted for specialised treatment.
One of the six criminals in this case was a young boy, who was six months below the age of 18 (he is unnamed as yet because Indian law does not permit the naming of juvenile criminals). According to police information, the boy was the most brutal of the perpetrators.
However, under current laws, he would still be released in three years - at the end of 2015 - from the reform home he has been sent to.
According to NCRB statistics, in 2013, the rise in crimes against women committed by juveniles was highest in cases where the modesty of a woman was outraged (132.3 percent) followed by words, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman (70.5 percent) and rape (60.3 percent).
Deputy Commissioner of Police S.B.S Tyagi told IANS: "It is very surprising that several group of criminals used juveniles to commit crimes like robbery and snatching. They know that a minor cannot be given strict punishment if he is caught and will be released soon."
Proper care by family members is the only way to stop rising juvenile crimes, he added.
Lawyer Majeed Memon echoed this, telling IANS: "It is very difficult to count the reasons for the rise in crime by juveniles. Several different factors are behind it. Parents must be accountable for their children."
An official at the juvenile home in north Delhi's Mukherjee Nagar told IANS that some minors who have a "hardened criminal nature" and repeatedly indulged in heinous crimes "are difficult to reform".
He said that there should be a "fear of law among such juvenile offenders"; only the first-timers or those below the age of 16 have been noticed to be less violent in behavior.