Thiruvananthapuram: ‘Kaval,’ the state’s unique psychosocial experiment to reform children involved in crimes, is gradually yielding results. Of the 1,056 teenagers in nine districts who were brought under the project, over 250 have resumed their education. The project, the first of its kind in the country, began in April 2017.
Sixty-four kids who had dropped out of school long time ago, too early to be reintegrated into the education mainstream, are now being given skill training. Some have even started on their new jobs.
More importantly, the crime relapse rate has come down commendably. An official study conducted in the three districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad, where the project was first rolled out, it was found that the number of teenagers who had returned to crime after conviction had fallen from 15 to 3 after 'Kaval' came into being. From November 1, after assessing the results of Kaval, the Women and Child Department has decided to extend the project to all the district in the state.
‘Kaval’ is implemented with the support of NIMHANS, the country’s premier mental health and neuroscience institute. Usually, children below 16 years who have committed serious crimes are mostly sent out on bail, and then completely forgotten. Only in rare cases, especially if considered dangerous to the society, are they detained in Observation Homes. Most of the children sent back on bail are virtually abandoned by their families and are found to fall back into crime.
The rot is in the family
What makes ‘Kaval’ unique is that it addresses not just the child but also his family. It involves not just psychological help but also social assistance. The project is carried out through NGOs in the field. The project views the behavioural aberration in the child only as a symptom. “The root cause of his behaviour lies in his family,” said K K Subair, the state nodal officer for the project. “We will check for any social deficiencies in the family and then draw up a support plan based on various social welfare schemes of the government,” he said. Say for instance, if a parent is disabled or the family is steeped in poverty or debt, or the father is an alcoholic, there are enough government support programmes that can be marshalled to help the family.
Reforming a teenager prone to violent behaviour is a long and arduous emotional process that would take years to succeed. The turnaround time will be high, especially for victims of substance abuse. “First they will have to be taken to a de-addiction centre, and then given regular counselling. Even then there are chances of a relapse. The whole process will then have to start all over again,” said Dr Kavitha, NIMHANS researcher who is coordinator for the project. “It can even take years, say till the boy is 25, before he is fully cured,” she said.
Dr Kavitha said that the recovery would be faster for kids who had a good support network, in the form of parents and teachers. More than 75 per cent of the children in the project come from broken families, either the parents would be divorced or their relationship would be badly strained. “Many had a violent childhood, where they would be subjected to frequent beatings. There are also kids who threaten to assault their parents,” Dr Kavitha said.
Father, son, and the country bomb
Even boys with loving parents have developed violent behaviour. Take the case of a boy in the capital city who was handed over to the 'Kaval' project by the Juvenile Justice Board. The charge: He came with a country bomb to his 11th standard class to teach his classmates a lesson. The boy, who had serious anger issues, had a father who was short of height and very submissive.
On enquiry it was found that the boy's violent behaviour started with his school friends making fun of his father's short stature. “In a way, he was defending his very submissive father, a daily wager. He loved his father a lot,” said Firoz who works for the NGO, The BluePoint Org, that takes care of 93 children in the capital. The boy, a plus two student, was caught for handling a bomb even when he was part of the Kaval project. He had hurled a country bomb at his friends who were playing volley ball. Reason: one of them had made fun of his father.
The boy, who once thought getting a job as a petrol pump worker was the ultimate, now dreams of being a sub inspector. “He has the physique for it, and we encourage him to dream big,” Firoz said. The family was also asked to shift to another district after the police told Kaval authorities that there were gangs in the capital city waiting to use the boy for their criminal designs. “Most of these boys are in awe of cigarette-and pot-smoking youth in their area who indulge in goonda activities. They want to be close to them and are willing to do anything to earn their favour,” said Dr Kavitha. Kaval authorities found the family a new home, and also a job for both the parents.
The drunkard and the pickpocket
On the other side of the spectrum is parental negligence. Take for instance a boy who is part of Kaval's Pathanamthitta project. He was born in Delhi and his mother was a nurse in a top hospital in the capital. His father, an alcoholic, left his mother right after he was born. By the time he was 12, his mother died of cancer. The boy then had to shift to Kerala and live with his father. By then the father had stopped working and spend almost the whole time drinking. The father did not even acknowledge the existence of his son that he left the boy hungry most days.
One day when the father was knocked unconscious by liquor, he picked some money from his father's pocket. When he found that the father had not noticed the theft, he made this a habit. Soon, he started picking the pockets of drunk men lying abandoned out in the streets. He knew where to find them.
He was still going to school, and worked in a 'thattukada' in the night. “He also started taking food home to his father,” said Ginu, who works for the NGO Foundation for Development Action. FDA is in charge of 50 children under the Kaval project. He bought a bike when he was in his 12th standard. Soon, the police caught up with him and started to foist all thefts in the area upon him.
“In a way it was easy to bring him back because he did not have any behavioural issues. His problem was lack of a support system. We invested more time in his father than him, and now it seems the man is coming around. The boy is also isolated by the community around him. They still call him 'kallan'. We have to fix that too,” Ginu said. The boy is now doing a hotel management course in Ernakulam.
The solution differs with each child. “If one has parental issues, another could suffer from isolation by peers, yet others from learning difficulties. So the response strategy will be different for each child, and will be detailed in the ‘individual child care plan’ for each child,” Subair said.