Juvenile delinquency: A common problem in modern world

Trilok Sharma


Juvenile delinquency is the act of committing unlawful acts or crime by minor or someone who is below the statutory age of minority. This age bar differs from country to country. In case of Nepal, minor or children means those who have not attended eighteen years. For age limit of juvenile, the same is true in case of the United States.

Juvenile delinquency is also called ‘juvenile offending’ and the person taking part in such acts is called ‘juvenile delinquent’. Juvenile delinquent or young offender can be of any sex – male, female or LGBTIQA+. As they are below the age of criminal responsibility, they are often dealt differently than adult offenders. However, depending upon the type and severity of offence, there is also a chance that they may be charged like that of adults.

The antisocial acts of our young offenders range from misbehaving others to major crimes such as rape, murder and robbery.

Today throughout the world juvenile delinquency has become a serious issue and common concern for all. Low income and poor countries have done little or nothing to deal with this issue while developed countries are putting their best effort to bring down the graph of adolescent crime by focusing on juvenile crime prevention activities but are yet to achieve the satisfactory result.

Types of juvenile delinquency

According to American sociologist Howard Becker (1966), juvenile delinquency can be basically divided into four types.

Individual delinquency

In this type only one individual is involved in committing an unlawful act and its cause is located within that individual delinquent. Most of the explanations of this delinquent behavior come from psychiatrists. Psychological problems stemming primarily from defective or faulty or pathological family interaction patterns, is believed to be the cause of the delinquency. Individuals indulge in antisocial acts as a solution to these problems; as such acts either helped them to have attention from parents or provide support from peers helping them to reduce their guilt feelings.

Group-supported delinquency

This refers to delinquencies that are committed in companionship with others and the cause is located not in the personality of the individual or in the delinquent’s family but in the culture of the individual’s home and neighborhood.

The study has shown the reason why kids became delinquent because of their association and companionship with others who was already delinquent. Sutherland based on this finding later developed the theory of differential association. Unlike the psychogenic explanations, this set of ideas focuses on what is learnt and who is learnt rather than on the problems that might produce motivation to commit crimes.

Organized delinquency

In this type formally organized groups are involved in committing crimes. This concept refers to the set of values and norms that guide the behavior of group members that encourages the commission of delinquencies, award status on the basis of such acts and specify typical relationship of persons who fail outside the groupings governed by group norms.

Situational delinquency

The concept of situational delinquency is undeveloped and is not given much relevance in the problem of delinquency causation. It provides a different perspective. Here the assumption is that delinquency is not deeply rooted, and motives for delinquency and means for controlling it are relatively simple. A young man indulges in a delinquent act without having deep commitment to delinquency because of less developed impulse-control or because of weaker reinforcement of family restraints, and because he has relatively little to lose even if caught.

Causes contributing factors to juvenile delinquency

There are various factors behind the birth of young criminals. In fact the crime is the consequences of different social, cultural, economic and family conditions. Some of the major causes are discussed below.

Social environment

Social environment includes school and community environment which is considered as the major cause of juvenile delinquency. School is the place to learn and grow. If the school is of poor educational standards that lacks discipline and order, it is likely that child attending such schools may become delinquent. The chaos experienced in these schools lead children to act more defensively as they are scared by their surrounding environment. Similarly, if the child grows in a community where violent activities are common, the child will have tendency to be more prone to delinquency.

Family environment

Parental supervision, the way parents discipline a child, the parental conflict or separation, criminal activity by parents or siblings, parental abuse or neglect, and the quality of child parent-child relationship are the factors that largely contributes in shaping the behavior of a child.

  1. Steinberg in his book ‘Adolescence’ has concluded that a child brought up by single parents or the one who grew up in broken family, are more likely to live in poverty and engage in delinquent behavior in comparison to those who are brought up by both parents. Single parents are often busy working and thus are unable to spend quality time with their kids. This leads in weakens the parent-child bond resulting kids to seek attention from others, especially with their peers.

Peer influence

Just to get accepted and show uniformity amongst the friends circle, time and again children feel pressure to involve in unlawful acts. Association with such anti-social groups often leads to the promotion of violent, aggressive and deviant behavior in youths. Adolescents who are aggressive in nature when rejected by peers are more likely to have a hostile attribution bias. Robert Vargas in his article “Being in ‘Bad’ Company” has explained why the adolescents who choose between groups of friends are less susceptible to peer influence that could lead them to commit illegal acts.

Economic condition

Children from poor families are likely to involve in criminal activities to make money and fulfill their demands. Sometimes doing crime to meet their basic needs becomes their necessity. Just four months back in April of this year, passing a ‘unique’ verdict the local court in Bihar, India, had provided a minor NarendraRao from a poor family with essential commodities who admitted of stealing to arrange food and medicine for his sick mother. Boy’s confession in front of court melted judge heart and a chance was given to improve.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse is the common cause that pushes youths to commit crime. Ignored and hated by parents, teens who have addiction of drugs abuse, to meet their daily dose often indulge in delinquency and this inflicts damages to society. Many such young offenders are under the influence of drugs while committing crimes and thus is totally aware of the damaged made by them to others.


Preventing juvenile delinquency

Every single person living in the society is affected by juvenile crime. Anyone can be victim of such crimes. Who knows when a drunk teen will go in wrong side and run his car over you while you are walking in the pavement. Not only the victims and offender, the bystander also has to pay the price.

United Nations research shows that the causes of juvenile delinquency differ from region to region. Juvenile delinquency in Africa and Latin America are typically related with homelessness, hunger and poverty. Delinquents in Europe and the US are often charged with theft, vandalism, or destruction of property. And, in Asia the delinquents are found to have highly concentrated in city areas.

The Prison Policy Initiative report reads that over 48,000 children are held in juvenile detention centers or prisons in America alone. Worldwide figure is unknown but UNICEF estimates that over 1 million children experience confinement in various countries across the globe.

Although in the past few years delinquency rates have been decreasing, still the rates is too high. For example, in 2018 in US the law enforcement agencies made an estimated 728,280 arrests of person under age 18 which is 60 per cent less that the number of arrests in 2009. However, in case of Nepal the cases of juvenile delinquencies are increasing at an alarming rate. According to the report published by Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens – Children in Nepal 2019, as many as 821 children were sent to juvenile correction centers in 2018-19, compared to 380 in previous fiscal year, an increase by over 115 per cent.

To curb juvenile delinquency, globally there have been numerous programs. Some programs are proving effective while others have minimal or no impact. Most effective programs are the ones that intervene before the onset of delinquent behavior and prevent that behavior – prevention programs. By intervening in children’s life early, later the crime can be effectively reduced. Also, it is likely that prevention programs would impact positively to general public as they stop crime from happening. Preventions programs prevents youth from being involved in crime or other antisocial activity. Such programs includes activities such as substance abuse education and treatment, family counseling, youth mentoring, parenting education, educational support, and youth sheltering, among many others. Also, in juvenile reform or correction centers, vocational programs and educational approach should be focused to reducing recidivism rates of juvenile offenders.

The writer is a development professional and General Secretary of Institute of Social Science Research (ISSR).

Published on 18 August 2020