Juvenile cases on the rise in RupandehiThe district is seeing a sharp rise in juvenile misconduct cases—from 16 recorded cases in the past year to 85 this year so far.
In mid-May, police arrested a 13-year-old boy from Saljhandi under allegations of him raping an eight-year-old girl. After the arrest, the police investigated the case for a week and the Office of District Attorney drafted a report based on their findings.
On May 30, the boy was called to the Juvenile Bench at the Rupandehi District Court for a hearing. Chief Judge Nariswar Bhandari proceeded to question the boy but the latter didn’t speak a word. Bhandari then sought the help of the alleged boy’s mother. After she intervened, the boy started to talk.
“While talking to the boy, I realised that he has “absent” parents. His mother is a migrant worker who had come to Nepal after being informed about her son’s misdemeanour. His father is a chronic drunk,” Bhandari said. “It came as no surprise to me to see the boy, at such a young age, moving around in bad company.”
The boy’s mother, visibly upset at what was unfolding in front of her eyes, said, “I know I should have been around for him, to guide him, but I also had to think about being financially stable to feed the family.”
In the past year, nine boys have been accused of rape in the district. Five have been returned to their homes after counseling, while four have been sent to juvenile reform centres after being found guilty.
On April 5, a 12-year-old was arrested on the charge of drug abuse. The boy was arrested from the Belhiya Buspark at the Nepal-India border during a regular security check. The boy was found carrying drugs—such as Diazepam 64, Nufin 64 and Fenaragan 64 Ampul—taped around his body.
According to police, the drugs were bought with IRs 15,000 in India and were being smuggled into Nepal. The boy was being employed by a drug trafficker to cross the border in exchange for money, they say. The boy has been charged under the drug abuse and trafficking law and is currently being kept at the Rupandehi Reform Centre.
As per prevailing legal provisions, children over the age of 10—who are found to be involved in criminal activities—are punishable by law. If found guilty, the children of the said age-group are subject to fine and prison sentence depending upon the nature of the crime and the age of the perpetrator. Prison sentence in this case means keeping the children in reform centres.
A three-member committee—including the chief judge, an expert on children’s issues and a child psychologist—has been formed in every district court to look into their cases. The committee is also tasked with helping the children reform their ways and to provide them justice.
Of late, crime rate among juveniles is on the rise in the district. While in the past year, 16 such cases were officially registered, the figure has seen a sharp rise this year, with 85 cases registered within 10 months.
All of the alleged children are male, charged under crimes such as drug abuse and trafficking, robbery, rape, murder, abduction, manhandling and forgery of official stamps. Forty-one allegations are under drug abuse, 25 under robbery, nine under rape, eight under murder, and one each under public offence, forgery of official stamp, abduction and citizenship abuse.
Out of the total cases, 46 have been settled. A total of 62 children were presented to the court. Most of the children were charged guilty. Out of which, 29 have been returned home after counseling while 33 are sent to reform centres.
Since last year, people under the age of 16 were legally considered children. But the Civil and Criminal Code, which came into effect since August 17, 2018, defines people under 18 as children. Netra Prasad Bhusal, the registrar of the court, says this change in law is partially responsible for the sudden rise of cases against children.
Chief judge Bhandari, also the coordinator of the Children Enquiry Committee, said that the main reasons behind children getting involved in crimes are poor parenting, family culture, and peer pressure. “Most of the children charged under crimes come from impoverished and/or dalit families,” Bhandari said.
According to Shiva Gaudel, advocate and chairperson of Nepal Child Welfare Organization, children from impoverished backgrounds find their way into a life of crime because the illiteracy rate among their parents is high. Importance to child care, their education and their rights aren’t prioritised. “Most of wayward children become embroiled in criminal activities because they lack guidance and are easily influenced by seniors and crumble under peer pressure,” Gaudel said.
Justice of the Supreme Court and chair of Juvenile Justice Coordination Committee Dr Ananda Mohan Bhattarai said that most children commit crimes imitating seniors. “In some cases, children are swindled by older people,” he says, “while in other cases, even friends, neighbours and teachers encourage the children to commit crimes.”
Loknath Gyawali, chairperson of Parents’ Association, Rupandehi, said that most of the juveniles who have engaged in crimes and delinquencies suffer from poor parenting and the widespread method of education by rote in schools. “It is high time the parents become aware and pay attention to their children’s upbringing and education,” Gyawali said. “Schools too need to start incorporating moral education in their curricula and engage children in extracurricular activities.”