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Are Delhi's criminals getting younger?

March 30, 2004 14:40 IST

Schoolchildren seem to have new additions to schoolbags -- guns, knives, and hockey sticks.

A recent survey carried out by Sahvog, an adolescent health guidance centre at Hindu Rao hospital in New Delhi, with the aid of World Health Organisation, health ministry and Municipal Corporation of Delhi found that as many as seven per cent of adolescents in Delhi carry weapons, including guns.

The study involved a cross-section of adolescents from government and public schools besides college students.

"Although adolescents carrying weapons is not a new phenomenon but the survey result clearly indicates an increasing trend," said Dr Ravi Prakash Gupta, paediatrician and project coordinator of Sahyog.

"Sixty one out of about 850 students surveyed admitted carrying weapons like gun, knife, stick or hockey stick to educational institutions and as many as 80 adolescents said they were threatened or injured by someone with a weapon in past 12 months,' he added.

A survey conducted some time back by a leading public school in the capital substantiates Sahvog's findings. It indicated that carrying weapons, including pen knives, paper-cutters and blades by students has increased by almost five per cent since last decade, with boys being four times likely as girls to carry weapons.

Psychologists dealing with adolescents' problems, however, maintain that carrying weapons does not necessarily make a child criminal. There are other factors leading to an increase in this trend.

"These days we can easily see a sense of premature confidence in lot of adolescents. They want to take control of social and family network at a very young age and carrying weapons gives them a false sense of inflation of controlling their surrounding more effectively," Dr Jitendra Nagpal, Consultant Psychiatrist, Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences said.

The changing social environment has played a role in fear taking root among the children. In such cases, weapons give them a sense of security and become a means of self-defence, Dr Nagpal said. "Children get bullied, teased and even ragged by others and in such cases presence of a weapon acts as a deterrent to the bully," Dr Nagpal added.

Experts say the phenomenon is not only evident in metros but is also increasing in small cities and towns. "Media too has played a very major role in increasing the trend," said Vandana Puri, principal, Salwan Public School. "It is a clear indicator of how a public event can alter the private psychology of an individual."

"The glamourisation of violence and weapons in films and television has lead to a belief among these young souls that carrying weapons is a sure shot route to achieve macho and strong image," Puri said.

Family environment like broken homes, alcoholic or dominating father are other important reasons for this trend, she added. And this tendency of carrying weapons, in turn, affects the academic performance of children adversely, said Dr Nagpal.

For curbing this trend, experts advocate compulsory life skills education for adolescents.

"While counseling is one of the most effective means to tackle this menace, inclusion of life skills education programme in our curriculums can be helpful in solving large number of problems faced by adolescents these days. They teach them the negotiating skills which are mandatory to survive in present day competitive world," Dr Nagpal said.

He also advocates 'Parent Management Training (PMT)', which helps in correcting faulty discipline mechanism prevalent in several homes for retarding the growth of this phenomenon.

"But to begin with, efforts must be made to identify such children with altered behaviour and counsel them towards the right track. We must try to understand the psychology of the child if he carries weapons. He should be made to understand what is right and what is wrong," said Puri.

"In case of children carrying weapons due to fear of being attacked, efforts must be made to instill confidence in the child because if this phobia continues to grow, there will be a tremendous lack of self-confidence among such children," cautioned Dr Nagpal.

Madhuri Sehgal in Delhi
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