Juvenile delinquency in simple words can be understood as participation of minors (age specified by statuary in concerned country or city for example in India anyone less than age 18 years would be counted as minor while in Texas, an American city this age is 17 years) in unlawful activities for example- theft, assault or sexual abuse. (Siege, 2011) The number of juvenile delinquents in recent days has grown up rapidly that consequently has attracted the debate around the question that whether juvenile delinquency is a concerning matter of legal field or psychology.
Every country has special provisions for juveniles. Under such provisions, different-2 treatments (lesser punishment to a juvenile in comparison to an adult) are instructed to the states which should necessarily be followed by the states while treating a juvenile. In India, there is a separate act for treating juveniles called the ‘Juvenile Justice Act 2000’ (Hereinafter as ‘The Act’). The Act has prescribed all the procedures that necessarily be followed by every organ involving in the culmination of the proceedings by the police while investigating the case or be the judiciary while hearing the case.
On 12th December 2012 when six men brutally raped a girl[i]The entire nation came together and asked for the most severe punishment for all the offenders involved.[ii] However, soon it was found that one of the offenders involved in this heinous act was a minor. Therefore, case processing related to him was scheduled to be held as per the provisions of the Act including the provision of maximum punishment of three years for him. Public responses very angrily towards it they felt it is injustice with the victim who lost her life because of their barbarous act.[iii] Further, it was also reported that the said juvenile was more brutal with the victim.[iv]
Consequently, the entire nation demanded the formation of a more strict law for a juvenile involving in such heinous acts. In response of such unanimous demand, in 2015, an amendment was brought in the Act that introduced a clause which stated that if a crime has been committed by a 16 years old juvenile and such crime is heinous in nature then he would be treated as an adult, not as a juvenile (the maximum punishment provision was also raised to seven years).[v]
However, it is noteworthy that even after this amendment the punishment provisions for the juveniles are much lower while comparing it with the adult who can now be sentenced even the death penalty for the offence of rape. Now, the obvious question here arises whether all these legal approaches are beneficial for juveniles to restrict them from committing any wrongful act? or are they inciting them to commit more wrong due to a mild approach of laws towards them? Such laws also don’t seem to help much in restricting juvenile offences as their primary work is providing relief to juveniles rather than preventing them from committing any kind of wrongful act.
Now, this is where the psychological approach gets an edge over the legal approach as a psychological approach that helps us to determine the exact reason behind delinquency. It also provides some instruments in the form of several theories through which we can trace that section of society which has more probabilities to commit wrongful acts. Additionally, it also provides us with theories based on which we can stop the occurrence of such acts.
In simple words, the legal approach comes into play after the commission of the act to protect the juvenile from any rigorous legal consequences while the psychological approach comes into play even before the commission of the act to protect the juvenile from indulging in any wrongful activities.
In India, as per the report of National Crime Records juvenile crimes committed in 2011 were 23, 25,575 cases, and this number increased to 29, 49, 400 in 2015. The numbers are giving evidence of a dire need to apply the psychological approach effectively to restrict this quick growth in juvenile crimes.
Causes Of Juvenile Delinquency And Psychological Approaches
Juvenile delinquency can be approached from a legal point of view, a sociological point of view, and a psychological point of view or even from a religious or ethical point of view but all these should not be approached independently but should be inter-related with each other. In this part, we will understand this inter-relation of one point of view with another while discussing the several theories relating to juvenile delinquency simultaneously.
This theory is purely based on the work done by the Austrian Physician Sigmund Freud. Freud said law violation is done by a person only when he doesn’t carry a normal personality. (Freud, 1963) He explained this abnormal personality as a result of some unconscious feeling that a person has developed in his early stages of life (up to 5 years as according to him the development of a person completes up to this age).
To explain this phenomenon he gave the concept of Id, Ego, and SuperEgo. Here, Id is something that exists in every person since his/ her birth itself. It is a pleasure-seeking and unrestrained component which always demands for immediate gratification irrespective of moral values and circumstances at the time of demand. On the other hand, Ego starts developing after birth when a child starts recognizing the reality of the world while SuperEgo starts developing when a child starts interacting with the parents and persons around to him.
It consequently results in the development of a conscience moral value that is influenced by the moral values shared among the persons around him. All these three components develop in a person by the age of five years. Since here to constitute a normal personality of a person these three components are required to work simultaneously in a proper way which is as follows-
As already mentioned Id deals with the needs and desires of a person irrespective of any barriers while Ego deals with the reality of the world. SuperEgo deals with moral values and the conscience of a person. When a person desires (Id) for something then the Ego and SuperEgo restrict or allow such desires based on the moral values and the reality of society. This process constitutes the behaviour of any person as in this process if any one of these three components starts dominating over others it leads an abnormal behaviour in a person which consequently results in criminal activities by him.
To understand it in the context of our paper when a child abused or mistreated by his/ her parents or face any misconduct he then develops the unconscious feeling associated with resentment, fear or hatred within him and if this conflict does not solve then it regresses the child again at the age where Id dominates, as a result, he starts doing acts which give him immediate gratification without caring about the moral values (SuperEgo) or reality of society (Ego).
Sometimes, this domination of Id also results in suffering from mental diseases such as neurosis and psychoses. This in turn needless to say results in the origination of criminal behaviour in a juvenile. (Abrahamsen, 1944) The reports have also suggested that in a juvenile delinquent Id dominates immensely which reduces his/her inability to control impulsive drives.
This happens mostly due to improper care of a child by his/her parents which gives him some unpleasant experiences. August Aichorn said in his research that youths who have unhappy experiences with their family generally seek to engage more in the practices which give them immediate gratification without caring about the people to whom they are troubling. He adds further that when this feeling of delinquency reaches the extreme level it takes the form of psychosis where one starts enjoying the trouble of his/her victims. (Aichorn, 1935) There are also many reports which state that most of the delinquent suffers from this type of mental disorder. (Ouimette, 1997)
For having a normal behaviour in a juvenile all three discussed components which are Id, Ego and SuperEgo should be at a proper balance for example when parents remain too strict on their children it results in the domination of superEgo over the other two. At this stage, the child finds him very restrictive and less independent and in a pursuit to get independency child often finds criminality as an instrument and as a chance to use his/her skill that gives him the feeling of excitement which he was feeling missing due to domination of SuperEgo which in turn was resulted due to the strict parenting. (Halleck, 1971) So, as per this theory, a proper balance of all components should be carried in a child to avoid him from engaging in any unlawful activities.
While psychoanalysis theory given by Sigmund Freud stated that behaviour of any person is decided by the age of five years itself. This theory-based primarily on the work of American psychologist John B.Watson and Harvard professor B.F.Skinner stated that the behaviour of any person does not depend on his upbringing up to five years they stated that behaviour is a learning process that continues throughout the life of a person. Also, where Freud’s theory believed that the behaviour of a person depends upon his/her unconscious observations this theory stated that behaviour depends upon some conscious observations done by a person.
It can be understood as when a person observes that a certain act is reinforced by positive results for example if a child applauded by his/her parents on hitting another child he would observe this and will continue with this behaviour as the result of the act was positive for him. While if the same child scolded by his/her parents on hitting another child he would not observe it in his behaviour as due to the negative reinforcement of the act.
This theory can be understood in the context of our paper through these few examples- when a child sees his/her father drinking alcohol and dominating himself over the family he would presume this drinking behaviour as a domination instrument and it would work for him as positive reinforcement. Therefore, he would be more prone to alcohol and drugs which consequently raises the possibility of indulging in criminal activities. Further, if a child in his/her surrounding observes people who despite doing wrongful activity living a happy life then he also presumes this behaviour as an instrument of happiness.
Social Learning Theory
This theory was developed in response to earlier discussed theory; this theory also accepted that behaviour can be learned throughout the life of a person like behaviour theory. However, it didn’t recognize the whole theory. Given by Albert Bandura, Walter Mischel, and Richard Walter this theory stated that a person’s behaviour depends on his learning and social experiences coupled with his/her values and expectations this latter part of this theory was missing in the behavioural theory. (Albert Bandura, 1965)
According to this theory children personate behaviour by observing the behaviour of their parents, elders and persons around to them and also from television and cinema. Such learning can be positive or negative, so if a child sees that during an argument a person hits another person which in response was applauded or rewarded so here he would personate this aggressive behaviour and will perform in the same manner if he finds himself in the same situation in near future. In simple words, if a child observes the violence most of the time he would personate the violent behaviour irrelevant to his parents’ advice to keep himself apart from all the violent activities.
So, despite the warning of parents to child, he/she will commit the violent act even if he gets the punishment for it (mostly physical punishment) because he has already modelled and accepted this violent behaviour after frequently seeing his parents or people around to him delved into the same acts. It means a child is more likely to do what his parents do, not what they say. Continuing with this cycle, by mid-childhood, the child will make the habit of this physical punishment and now it would work for him more like training than punishment, for any kind of reactions that he can get from other persons upon whom he will act his violent behaviour.
One of the basic reasons behind this is the child’s disrupted dependence relation with his/her parents. It means when a child feels anger towards parents, he feels that they are not providing him adequate nurture as well as they are also lacking in giving affection and love to him. This results in adolescent aggression in the child which comes out as immediate, direct, and socially unacceptable norms such as violence and aggression. (Walters, 1959)
This theory in recent years has gained recognition from many psychologists. Psychologists under this theory have talked about the mental process to a large extent. It says that the behaviour of a person depends on how he perceives things and mentally understands them all this process called ‘mental processes’. This approach was first founded by Jean Piaget a Switzerland psychologist who explained the development of this mental process in a person. According to him, this reasoning process happens in four stages which are as following:
The first stage- Called Sensorimotor stage- age-duration birth to 2 years.
The second stage- Called Preoperational stage- age-duration 2 to 7 years.
The third stage- Called Concrete operational stage- age-duration 7 to 11 years.
Final stage- Called Formal operational stage- age-duration 12 and up.
According to him at the first stage which is from birth to two years, the child starts knowing the world through his/her movement and sensations. He starts learning about the world through his action that he develops after his birth for example sucking, walking, etc. Children also start realizing the existence of objects in this world and the same stage they also understand the difference between the objects and human being. They also understand that their action leads to the cause of some things.
Piaget said that a child’s mind works like a scientist’s mind where he experiments daily to understand this world more comprehensively. They (children) do it with the help of basic reflexes, sensory, and motor responses. In this stage of life the child starts realizing the name attached to any particular object and starts adopting the language that people surrounding to him are speaking, they also start developing physical actions such as walking and crawling. He called this stage of life full of dramatic growth where stage growth account is very huge.
In the second stage, children start using words and pictures to name any particular object, they also start getting a better command over the languages but at the same time, they also develop the quality of Ego-centralism which simply means they find it difficult to see things from others point of view. Here they lack the logic as they cannot deduce logic from any given principles. Here it is also necessary to mention that at this stage of life kids don’t have the ability of conversation.
In the third stage, children develop the ability of conversation with other persons, they also start using inductive logic and start thinking in a reasonably logic manner. At this stage quality of Ego centralism from children also starts disappearing and they start thinking from the perspective of other persons as well. This mainly happened due to the development of quality of using logic into them. But this logic and reasoning thinking doesn’t extend to think abstractly about the hypothetical problems.
The fourth stage of life, which exists with a person for the whole of his life, here adolescent starts thinking abstractly about hypothetical problems. This is the stage where one starts thinking about his future planning about his future goals and from this stage adolescent also starts thinking about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that need some abstract reasoning. Through these four stages, Piaget explained the development of behaviour. (Piaget, 1977)
Due to the explanation of this theory in sub-groups, it plays a very important role in criminology. It is also important because through this theory we get to know how people morally and reasonably think about the world and how they perceive things differently.
Lawrence Kohlberg, take this developmental concept in criminology as he taught that all this development of stages also result in the development of one’s moral value and ethnicity which make him perform rightfully. In his view, a person who commits wrongful activity lacked or disoriented from this development of different stage which results in such kind of activities by them. (Kohlberg, 1969) He described the development of stages as follows:
Stage 1– Right is obedience to power and avoidance of punishment.
Stage 2– Right is taking responsibility for oneself, meeting one’s own needs, and leaving to others the responsibility for themselves.
Stage 3– Right is being good in the sense of having good motives, having concern for others, and “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.”
Stage 4– Right is maintaining the rules of society and serving the welfare of the group or society.
Stage 5– Right is based on recognized individual rights within a society with agreed-upon rules a social contract.
Stage 6– Right is an assumed obligation to principles applying to all humankind.
Kohlberg in his research said that persons who commit wrongful activities fall under stage 1 and 2 and who don’t commit fall under stage 3 and 4. We can interpret from the above-given stages that person who obeys the law just to avoid the punishment or thinks about only him, not of society are more likely to commit wrongful acts.
To pushing these theories in our context we can understand as when developmental stages start and child during these stages faces problems like parents abuse or having very strict parents or parents who are not giving him requiredto love and affection or separation i.e. divorce between the parents or the environment around him is not good. All this results in not having proper development stages due to which he adopts first two given stages of Kohlberg mentioned stages. This results in the commission of a wrongful act by him. (Henggeler, 1989)
As already mentioned cognitive theory works as information processing theory which simply means whatever information a person gets first he encodes this information so this can be interpreted by him then he searched for a proper and reasonable response for it which based on his perception of things observed during the development of stages and then according to it he forms an appropriate action. (K.A.Dodge, 1986)
An adolescent who uses this information processing in a better way unlikely to commit any criminal activities, they react or act upon any things reasonably and more cautiously for example before committing any act they think about the reasonable consequences that could have due to their actions and whether this consequence would be good or bad for him. Based on this basis they perform certain acts this whole process called information to process. This all leads them to avoid confrontation with antisocial behaviour. (Adrian Raine, 1996)
When an adolescent’s this information process works incorrectly it results in a lack of his ability to take quick decision and right decisions under the stressful situation which often leads him towards criminal behaviour this happens mainly due to improper handling of a child in childhood.
For example, maybe he has seen his parents behaving aggressively in a stressed situation, or due to improper parenting or due to some traumatic events. This may shape his decision-making powers which are now more prone to behave violently due to repeatedly seeing the violent and aggressive behaviour. Consequently, at this stage, he starts seeing crime as an appropriate way of response towards any critical situations. (Greening, 1997)\
What Steps Should Be Taken to Prevent Juvenile Delinquency?
Through the above discussion, we understand the theories about behaviour development in an individual through this we also get to know the root causes of juvenile delinquency. However, as we started this paper with the note where we urged the importance of psychological approaches in preventing the instances of juvenile delinquency, but the question arises how? The answer to this question we are going to find in this part of the paper-
Education is the most important instrument for any person as it helps to develop some essential human characteristics in a person. It is very important to spread the access of education to prevent the occurrence of juvenile delinquency. It can be proved one of the biggest means in the process of preventing juvenile delinquency. As many types of research have reported that there exists a perfect proportional relation between low intelligence level and delinquency. (Schmallegar, 2008)
Research done on the prisoners in the 20th century found that 40 per cent of the prisoners were low in IQ tests. (Siegel, 2008) This was also explained by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in a book titled, ‘The Bell Curve’. They explained that persons with low IQ intelligence are more likely to commit delinquency and get caught as they don’t have enough intelligence to plan a crime and execute it. (Murray, 1994) This explanation has got recognition from the other scholars as well. Psychologists have also explained this phenomenon in the current context(of the discussion) where they have stated that when a child performs poor in school it leads him to be a dropout from school which in turn left him with no option than involving in the criminal activities.
Thus, results in juvenile delinquency. (Hirschi, 1977) Explaining this, children who score low in their school grade face embarrassment from persons around to him and sometimes physical punishment from their parents as well as from teachers. This consequently as we have discussed above starts working like training for them to being prepared for any physical punishment further in their life. To tackle such a possibility a different kind of approach needs to be carried.
In such cases, the child should encourage to study in a well-organized way where he should be made aware of the benefits of education which can inspire him to score well. Also, Education should be provided for economically backward children at a low cost. Further, awareness programs about education should be done more properly as in India most of the juvenile delinquents are found low in IQ.
Family is also one of the major factors that contribute to the occurrence of delinquency as in all theories, which we have discussed above, parents play a major role since they influence their child’s behaviour immensely. So if parents start spending time with their child, providing them with the education and opportunity of activities such as art, museum, books for reading, music, and dancing then the possibility of the child involving in the wrongful activities will be very minimal.
Furthermore, these stated activities are also considered as ‘recreational activities’ which means it helps a child to engage himself in more prolific activities than doing any other worthless activities. These recreational activities happen between 2 P.M to 8 P.M and it is a known fact that crime rates remain at peak during such time. Thus, it conspicuously restricts the children from delving into the delinquency.
Further, such activities also help them to have an interaction with the society which consequently reduces the possibility of antisocial behaviour in a child. However, it should not only the parents but the government should also work towards it by introducing some youth-oriented programs like dancing competitions, sports programs, singing festivals, and many others.
Programs should also be introduced to teach parents about how they should interact and behave with their children as we have discussed that how violent behaviour of parents influences the children and inspire them to behave in the same manner. Also, in this modern world where technology is griping the people including the children rapidly through television, movies, and social media.
The often depiction of sexual activity, use of alcohol, gambling, and antisocial behaviour in a fascinating manner unarguably inspire the children to adopt the same behaviour. Therefore, parents here carry a special duty to guide their child appropriately about such depictions. Family problems like a divorce between parents should be handled in a manner so that it does not affect the child. The nuclear family concept should be adopted as it has been reported that in a joint family parents don’t able to give sufficient time to their children which consequently affects them.
In addition to this, inducement of prenatal and infancy home should also be done. It plays a very important role since it helps to maintain the health of mother and child. This program has already been introduced in the USA and the results of it are also quite encouraging. It has been reported that mothers and children who have benefitted under such programs have 79 per cent lower child abuse rate (in comparison to those who haven’t), 56 per cent lower child runaway rate and the child arrest rate is also 56 per cent lower. These statistics are giving the idea of how effective this concept is.
The occurrence of delinquency can also be stopped through bullying prevention program which simply means in school students should ask to fill a form without showing their identity about the questions like which students are likely to victimize more and which students are bullying other students and at what places incident of bullying are happening. And after getting these information teachers and administrators can arrange systems according to it by tracing the students (both who are bullied or are bullying) since both categories students carry the tendency to involve in the wrongful acts.
Though, the author at the beginning of this note emphasized the provisions that should work on prevention of delinquency before the commission of the act, however, it is also necessary to have the adequate provisions for a juvenile after the commission of the wrongful act. For example, the state should assist, to a juvenile once he completes his punishment, in the form of drug rehabilitation assistance, educational opportunities, providing him with a job to start his life in a fresh note, provisions of counselling, and family functional therapy should also be provided. These are very important concepts as it has always been seen that once if a juvenile gets punished it becomes very hard for him as well as for his family to survive within the society which often leads him to commit a crime or any wrongful acts again.
Here in this paper, the author has explained the concept of juvenile delinquency elaborately which now has become a serious threat for society as it’s very hard to avoid oneself from them since they age less than 18 years so for a common people it’s very difficult or we can say almost impossible to distinguish between a child who reserves such kind of thinking and who doesn’t. This is resulting in the suffering of common people from the wrongful acts of a juvenile.
Given this, the author has shown his concern over this and has asked to focus more on the psychological approach along with the legal approach as it is psychological through which we can stop juveniles from committing any wrongful act. For this given purpose the author has explained theories given by some prominent scholars and through these theories, the author has traced the root causes of juvenile delinquency, and to overcome from all these causes few suggestions have also been provided.
Juvenile delinquency is not an individual’s concern but a collective concern of the whole society since it is the children who are at stake. Therefore, more sensitive and proper care needs to be carried and this paper is a small contribution from the author in this benign direction.
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[ii] Padmapriya Govindarajan, Nearly 5 Years on: Lessons From India’s Infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ Gang Rape Case, THE DIPLOMAT ( May 16, 2017), https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/nearly-5-years-on-lessons-from-indias-infamous-nirbhaya-gang-rape-case/; Correspondent, Shock and outrage over India Delhi bus gang rape, BBC NEWS, (December 1, 2012), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-20765320.
[iii] Subramanian Swamy v. Raju through Member Juvenile Justice Board, (2014) AIR SC 1649.
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[v] Deepsikha Ghosh, 16-Year-Olds to be Tried as Adults in Extreme Crimes, Says Lok Sabha, NDTV ( May 7, 2015), https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/changes-to-juvenile-justice-act-spurred-by-gang-rape-outrage-passed-in-lok-sabha-761221.