Labelled Juveniles: Advocacy in Kolkata

Labelled Juveniles: Advocacy in Kolkata

Author: Debangi Sanyal
Jadavpur University, Kolkata

Introduction:

A juvenile is someone who has not yet attained a legal age, like 18 years in India. Relevant law categories juveniles as either “children in conflict with the law” (CCL) or “children in need of care and protection” (CNCP).[1] Taking into consideration the “Labelling Theory”, we can say that labelled juveniles are the ones who have been given labels by society like delinquent, or even criminal. Once applied, these labels shape individual identities and influence their interactions with society.

Edwin Lemert (1951) talked about secondary deviance that occurs when societal reactions such as name-calling, labelling, and stereotyping lead to stigmatisation and alienation of an individual. This exacerbates the deviant behaviour further solidifying the individual’s deviant identity. Merton’s theory of “self-fulfilling prophecy” also explains this. Individuals labelled as deviants, often internalize and conform to the identity, making the label accurate over time.[2]

In juvenile justice, labelling occurs when young offenders face adult trials, implying they are irredeemable. This contradicts the system’s aim of providing support. Early exposure can also harm their social identity and future prospects.

In Kolkata, legal advocacy for juveniles with labels is essential to defending their rights and improving their quality of life. Legal advocacy enables reintegration into society, fair treatment, and access to possibilities for rehabilitation. Juveniles with labels need committed support since they are frequently the target of prejudice and unfair treatment in the legal system. In this attempt, the West Bengal Commission for the Protection of Child Rights in Kolkata actively participates, highlighting cooperative efforts.

Challenges faced by Labelled Juveniles:

In 2014, over 60,000 people who had passed high school were involved in crime in Bengal belonging from lower middle-class families.[3] Even while the Principle of Fresh Start[4], as highlighted in the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, seeks to provide minors with a fresh start after being released from custody, those who are tried as adults still have their criminal records kept, which prevents them from being able to reintegrate into society stigma-free.

Arrests may also reduce chances for high school graduation and college enrolment. This is because time spent in court, juvenile detention, or in reporting to a probation officer leads to absences. The absences further lead to a blemished transcript and an unstable educational trajectory.[5] Their lifelong criminal record restricts their access to jobs and educational opportunities. Furthermore, it feeds social stigma, and raises the risk of recidivism.

Lack of Rehabilitation Programs:

Many labelled juvenile youth in Kolkata lack access to effective rehabilitation programs and support services, and the ones who do are not met with adequate services. The inadequacy of rehabilitative homes in Kolkata is portrayed via a study conducted by Pratichi Institute, Kolkata on 160 juvenile homes spread across West Bengal where three major concerns are addressed as below:

  • Juveniles in Conflict with Law (JCLs) are prevented from being rehabilitated and reintegrated into society by being confined to their rooms and denied access to the opportunities for education and employment.
  • Approximately 24% of JCLs are from Bangladesh and face prolonged repatriation processes, which stigmatizes them further and disrupts their familial and social ties, reinforcing their labelled status as outcasts or delinquents.
  • Negative labels are reinforced in juvenile homes due to a lack of well-trained staff to support and help children transition out of their delinquent identities. [6]

Thus, without proper intervention, they are unable to address underlying issues such as substance abuse, mental health disorders, or dysfunctional family dynamics that may have contributed to their delinquent behaviour. The absence of comprehensive rehabilitation efforts leaves them vulnerable to relapse into criminal activities, perpetuating the cycle of recidivism.[7]

Legal Protection of Labelled Juveniles:

Following are some legislative steps to help juveniles as enlisted in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules 2017:

  • Juveniles are not required to have an FIR lodged against them unless involved in serious offences, instead violations are noted in a general dairy and sent to the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) with the child’s social background report. The police must notify guardians and ensure the child’s rights and welfare, including prompt medical care and protection from coercion.
  • Instead of being kept in police lockups, juvenile delinquents should be held in child friendly facilities. The child’s social history is disclosed to the JJB by the Child Welfare Officer without stigmatization. With funding from the State Government for services like counselling and probation, the JJB also makes sure that social investigation reports, hearings and probationary requirements are followed on time.
  • The Children’s Court evaluates trial eligibility for serious crimes while upholding the assumption of innocence. It follows child-friendly protocols and criminal procedures when necessary, emphasizing individual care plans, community service, counselling, probation. Records are destroyed after a period, except for serious offences to maintain confidentiality and avoiding stigmatization.

The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights and UNICEF took “a multi-stakeholder consultation” to use a concept of “diversion” brought about by the Juvenile Justice Act via an amendment in 2021 to shield minors from the regular criminal justice system.

“It’s not enough to divert children from police stations and juvenile justice boards. We have to ensure essential services, follow-ups and psycho-social support and care to the children.”

– UNICEF Bengal Chief Mohammad Mohiuddin.[8]

Implementation Efforts in Kolkata:

  • Schools and neighbourhood associations collaborate to identify and support at-risk adolescents through early intervention. For example, the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre runs programs for exposed children which also involve community stakeholders.[9]
  • Institutions like The Child In Need Institute (CINI) hold parenting skills and child rights workshops to further educate families on the effects of delinquency and to create a warm and positive home atmosphere that facilitates the successful reintegration of a labelled juvenile.[10]
  • Schools in Kolkata integrate life skills training to help students resist peer pressure, resolve conflicts, and make moral decisions. Modules on life skills have been added to the curriculum by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. [11]
  • Homes like Sukanya Home and Snehneer offer vocational training in tailoring, computer skills, and more to both CCLs and CNCP juveniles.
  • Iswar Sankalpa provides mental health services to juveniles and addresses emotional and psychological issues, reducing recidivism among juveniles.[12]
  • Monitoring and assessment systems for community programs guarantee ongoing enhancements based on input from participants and program results. The National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD) conducts evaluations on a regular basis.[13]

Conclusion:

Practical limitations hinder the actual impact of advocacy initiatives in Kolkata, which have encompassed indispensable steps to decrease the labelling effects on juveniles. While only a small section of juveniles receives consistent vocational training, even scarcer have entry to formal education personalized to their needs.

An emphasis on rehabilitating and reintegrating labelled juveniles into society is essential to disrupt the cycle of reoffending. If educational and occupational programs are particularly tailored to fit the exceptional necessities and skills of juveniles, they will be able to participate in society more effortlessly.


[1] Government of West Bengal. (2017). The West Bengal Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules 2017. In The Kolkata Gazette [Legal].

[2] William.Cannon. (n.d.). Criminological Theory Context and Consequences 7th Edition eBook PDF.

[3] Ghosh, D. (2015, June 26). Underage crime on the rise in Kolkata. The Times of India.

[4] Juvenile Justice Act, 2015

[5] Kirk DS, Sampson RJ. Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood. Sociol. Educ. 2013 Jan 1;88(1):36-62.

[6] Sen, P., Bagchi, T., Bandyopadhyay, S., Sarkar, M., Mukherjee, S., et al. (2014). Annual Report 2014-15.

[7] M, S. (2023, August 25). Juvenile justice system in India: evolution and defects. CLATalogue

[8] Banerjee, A. (2023, April 2). Home stay, not detention, for juvenile offenders in Bengal. The Times of India.

[9] Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre. Programs.

[10] Child In Need Institute (CINI). Our Work, available at https://cini.org.uk/our-work

[11]West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. (2022). Life Skills Curriculum. Retrieved

[12] Iswar Sankalpa. Mental Health Programs

[13] National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD). (n.d.). Evaluation Reports.

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