Three years back, a cold blooded murder of a college student Khyati Shrestha rocked the nation. The public outrage mounted when the police found that the main accused Biren Shrestha had dismembered Khyati´s body after her murder and dumped the pieces at different districts of the country. In addition to the brutality of the case, involvement of a 16-year-old Merina Shakya as the murderer’s accomplice also sent shock waves throughout the country.
Though there are many cases of involvement of youngsters in crime, they did not get as much public attention as Khyati’s case. But the involvement of youngsters in serious crimes such as rape, kidnapping and murder, which has also been frequently reported in news media, has increased in the past few years.
“There’s increasing involvement of youth even in the heinous crimes such as kidnapping and murder,” says DIG Keshav Adhikary, spokesperson of Nepal Police. He backs his statement with the kidnapping data of 2012 which reports 116 solved cases of 135 total cases. In around 70% of the successful cases through police intervention, they have found that 65% of the criminals fall within the age bracket of 20-35.
“Curbing the rising involvement of youth in serious crimes has become a big challenge,” says Ganga Pathak, chief psychologist at National Institute of Psychology. She blames the lack of awareness programs on psychological counseling to address the increasing aggressive behavior in youths as one of the main cause for the increment of criminal activities.
According to her, youths show the sign of aggression in different ways. “Some have problems in expressing themselves while other display rebellious and anti-social behavior. Some kids who are struggling with their studies also develop aggressive behavior,” she says.
But these problems in youth psychology are hardly identified by the teachers or parents. There are very few schools in Nepal which has employed student counselors who can access the root of the student’s behavior problem. According to the research by Pathak on adolescence counseling, she found that only a total of 28 schools in the Kathmandu Valley had professional counselors. Due to lack of proper assessment of their state of mind, youths have become more vulnerable to committing crimes.
“Rather than understanding the problem, our educational and societal setup only lunges at punishment. Such unnecessary punishments further suppress their problems and make them more aggressive and dangerous,” says Pathak.
The rate of involvement of youth in crime has not only escalated in Nepal but its increment has been witnessed in many countries around the world. For instance, news of mass shootings by teenagers in the United States of America has been reported repeatedly. Most of these cases of high school massacres by youths were analyzed as cases of severe depression and manipulation of their intellectual skills. However, the recent case of involvement of a teenager in the notorious bus gang rape in India, which drew huge public outcry and worldwide debate on violence against women, shows the consequences of bad influence.
There are various factors that instigate a youngster to get into the world of crime. It is believed that parenting or home environment is the most important factor. Sometimes, teenagers use unacceptable behavior to attract attention and this continues till the time they are young adults.
Electronic devices also influence youngsters’ behavior. “Violent movies which depict violence as a ‘cool’ thing and the actors whom teenagers take as role models posing as criminals also encourage them to venture into crime,” says Pathak. She adds that many times youngsters take movies as a reference for committing crimes such as robbery and fake kidnapping cases.
On the other hand, video gaming has also increased indifference to violence to some extent, according to Pathak. In such gaming programs, gamers are given goals to hunt down and kill enemies. The graphics in such games demonstrate bloodshed and aggression. When parents provide their children with such gaming programs, they actually do not judge the consequences of what they are getting their children involved in.
The other factors include peer pressure, inferiority complex for not being able to cope with competition and the external environment like social and political settings.
“In the present context, the rising impunity in the society is also encouraging youths to get involved in crime. One of the stimulant factors for the teenagers and people in their early twenties is the rise of criminals who run organized crime and political leader’s subsequent support to those criminals,” says Pathak explaining the effect of external environment on youths.
The decade long insurgency and the armed violence in the Terai region of the country has also helped in politicizing of crime and illegal trafficking of small arms. The incident of the killing of Rosy Maharjan, a 21-year-old student in 2011 who was gunned down by the contract killers hired by her boyfriend also proves the abundance of illegal firearms in the country. While Rosy’s boyfriend was of her age, the contract killers were not over 24.
But Pathak also points out that there is no correction home for the juvenile criminals in Nepal. “Even teenagers are subjected to police custody rather than counseling. After the young criminals have spent the time in jail, they are further discouraged. Lack of second chance to the first time young criminals leads them to choose crime even after they are released from prison,” she says.
According to the law, children below 10 years of age are pardoned of any crime. If children above ten years of age and below 14 commit crimes, they are pardoned after counseling according to the nature of the crime or are sentenced up to six months in jail. And for teenagers of age 14-16, they are pardoned of half the punishment stated by the law. All the teenagers above 16 are sentenced to the crime committed according to the law.
In light to these rules, it is apparent that prevention is the only cure for deescalating the rate of youth in crime. After anyone above 16 years is arrested for any crime, there are very less future possibilities for a person with a criminal record history. Apart from future prospects and career opportunities, the person will also have a hard time integrating in the society after getting released from prison.
Therefore, it is important to understand the young minds and identify their talents where they can stream their energy. The current circumstances suggest that there is a serious dearth of proper counseling and value education. In addition, there is also an urgency to initiate awareness programs that can help the parents and teachers bond with children and keep them from being manipulated. Most of the youths who commit crimes don’t consider the consequences of their actions, so counseling and awareness can help them from falling into the crime trap.