Juvenile Delinquency: Incidence, Causes, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Delinquents!

Crime committed by children and adolescents under statutory age is called delinquency. The maximum age limit and also the meaning of delinquency varies in most countries. But it is always below 18 years.

According to the Pennsylvania Juvenile court act Juvenile Delinquency is defined as follows: “A delinquent child is one who violated any laws of the commonwealth ordinance of the city, a child who by reason of being wayward or habitually disobedient is uncontrolled by his parent, guardian, custodian or legal representative, a child who is habitually truant from school or home or child who habitually so deports himself as to injury or endanger the morals or health of himself or others.”

“Delinquency” according to Coleman (1981) ‘refers to behaviour of youths under 18 years of age which is not acceptable to society and it generally regarded as calling for some kind of admonishment, punishment or corrective actions’. Starting from use of illegal drugs, and homicide it may include two other dangerous, criminal offences.


Thus, briefly, it is a socially unacceptable behaviour, a social evil so to say, committed by boys and girls below 18 years age which actually requires some kind of punishment or corrective measures. In India any person between the ages 7 and 18, who violates the provisions of the children’s acts, the IPC and CPO, will be considered as delinquent. Persons above the age will be considered as criminals.

Incidence of Delinquency:

As reported by Coleman (1981) the incidence rate of delinquency increased by 100 per cent between 1968—1975. Though mainly boys are involved in delinquency currently females are also actively engaged in this malicious work. It is indeed shocking to note that almost half of the serious crimes in U.S.A. are committed by juveniles.

While female delinquents are commonly taken under custody, for sexual offences, drug usage, running away from home etc., male delinquents are more engaged in stealing, drug usage, robbery, aggravated assaults, sexual abuses etc. Currently the incidence of delinquency is specially increasing in large Metropolitan centres and it is really a matter of great concern for the world at large.

Some reports show that lower class youths and those residing in slum areas are more engaged in delinquent behaviour, while some other studies (O Straw, 1974) do not support this. Henry and Gold (1973) in an important study in fact found significant relationship between social status and delinquency behaviour. It is also of significance that the delinquency rate of socially disadvantaged youths appears about equal for whites and non- whites.

Incidence of delinquency in India:


Reports show a steady increase in the per cent of delinquency in the home country. While it was 16,160 in 1961, it was 40,666 in 1974, according to the reports published by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt, of India. Thus in 13 years, the increase in the incidence is 250 per cent, while considering this nevertheless the corresponding rise in population is also to be taken note of.

Among all the states in India, Maharashtra as reports show has the highest per cent of juvenile crimes (24.8%). Second place goes to M.P. (20.5%) and third place to Gujarat (10.9%). Kerala has an incidence rate of only 0.2 per cent.

Causes of Delinquency:

In many parts of India, criminal tendency in an individual is looked upon as the result of evil deeds in the past life of the parents, grandparents and great grandparents. This is no doubt a misconception, a prejudice. If the child develops delinquency, also it is believed by many that it is due to faulty actions, omissions and commissions by the parents during his childhood.

Delinquency lack ethical standards and emotional ties. They are very impulsive and indulge in acts at the spur of the moment. They are socially insensitive, and lack guilt feeling. Delinquents, in spite of their socially unacceptable behaviour are normal individuals with normal desires, but with some sort of maladjustment. These maladaptive behaviours create difficulties for the self as well as for others.


Considered as a learned behaviour delinquency was found to be highly correlated with low life styles, with lack of recreational facilities and lack of permanent residence. There are also psychoanalytic and biological explanations of delinquency.

In the development of delinquency various conditions may be involved either singly or in combination with others. The variables of delinquency may broadly be divided into — (a) personality characteristics, (b) family pattern and interactions, (c) delinquent gang and subcultures. Shanmugam (1980) found multiple factors underlying juvenile delinquency. He found extroversion, neuroticism, psychociticism, criminal propensity, maladaptive creativity, low I.Q., low L.O.A. and cognitive dissonance as important characteristics of delinquents.

Personality Characteristics:

Personal pathology:

Under personality characteristics we have (a) Brain damage, (b) Psycho­pathic personality, (c) Drug abuse, (d) Mental retardation, (c) Neuroses, (e) Psychoses.

(a) Brain damage:


According to the reports of Caputo and Mandell (1970), Kiester (1974) in about 1 per cent of the delinquent’s brain pathology such as brain damage leads to lowered inhibitory controls and a tendency to show violent behaviour. The genetic theorists argue the presence of an extra ‘y’ chromosome in delinquents.

(b) Psychopathic personality:

A great majority of persistent delinquents have been found to possess the traits and characteristics of antisocial and psychopathic personalities. A number of studies conducted in U.K. and India using Eysenck’s Personality inventory show delinquents to be more extroverts, more neurotic, more psychotic and to have more criminal tendencies than the control group.

They seem to be quite impulsive, callus and socially insensitive, they don’t have the feelings of sorrow, guilt and repentance. They are unable to establish suitable interpersonal relationship and they do not gain or learn anything from experience in a constructive way. They do not seem to have any reality control or inner conscience or morality.


So they indulge in whatever they wish, which give them pleasure and satisfy their ego without keeping in view its impact upon the society and their final consequences. For instance, they may steal a very little money actually they don’t need, they may steal a car or scooter without any necessity, drive it a little ahead, break the glass panes and leave it there.

Many psychopathic delinquents are found to cut the brand new cushions in theatres and movie halls. The author has also observed many delinquents of 10—12 years age that are in the habit of breaking the electric bulb in every lamp post on the road without any reason, in broad day light, in the presence of other people.

They just get immense pleasure by doing so and nothing more. When they were asked not to do so, by the author they just did not pay any attention, used abusive language and again repeated their behaviour. Actually they do not involve themselves in such nuisances for personal gain, but it really reflects their underlying resentment and hostility towards the ‘outer world’, the world for which they have no feeling of involvement or belongingness.

There are others, who just move around in a gang aimlessly and get pleasure in passing filthy remarks whenever a girl or a woman passes nearby. Such people are really at the mercy of their uncontrolled, uninhibited impulses.


It would be interesting to note that currently the incidence of psychopathic personality in female delinquents has increased quite rapidly as reports show. Fine and Fishman (1968) conducted a study on 115 girls in a State Correctional Institution in Kentuky (1968) to know their general personality characteristics.

They found rebelliousness, inadequacy, impulsive­ness, instability and immaturity characteristics commonly found in the psychopathic personality. It was also found (Ganzer and Sarason, 1973) that “females more frequently come from personally and socially disorganised families than did males.”

The theories of both Sheldon and Eysenck stress genetic aspects along with environmental aspects to explain delinquent behaviour.

(c) Drug abuse:

Quite a large number of delinquents particularly those who are engaged in theft, prostitution and physical assault are found to be addicted to drugs like heroin, secobarbital and alcohol. Drug addicted females are usually engaged in stealing and prostitution.

(d) Mental retardation:

Among 5 per cent of delinquents low intelligence and mental retardation may be accounted to delinquency. Such people have no foresight to the consequences and significance of their action. So they commit impulsive behaviour like sexual offence, small aggressive behaviour and petty stealing.

Even more intelligent psychopaths and gangs exploit them and include them in their group. In some instances mental retardation is associated with serious brain damage and leads to a combination of features of both the organic and the mentally retarded delinquent.

(e) Neuroses:

About 3 to 5 per cent of delinquent behaviour, seems to be directly associated with psychoneurotic disorders. Here the delinquent act is mainly tinged with compulsive behaviour, such as stealing things which one does not actually need, creating certain nuisances like peeping etc. This type of compulsion also leads to sexually deviant behaviour because of the sexual restrictions and beliefs that masturbation and other forms of overt sexual behaviour are very much undesirable and a sin.

(f) Psychoses:

In a limited number of cases, i.e., about 3 to 5 per cent, delinquent behaviour is associated with psychotic disorders. According to Bandura (1973) often this involves prolonged emotional and social withdrawal arising out of long standing frustration.

Then there is an explosive outburst of violent behaviour like volcanic eruption. Here the delinquent act is the function of terrible personality maladjustment and disturbances rather than a consistent antisocial orientation.

Pathological Family Patterns:

On the basis of the studies conducted on juvenile delinquency, the following pathogenic family patterns have been found to be most strikingly related to delinquency — (a) Broken home, (b) Faulty discipline of parents and child rearing practices, (c) Sociopathic parental models, (d) Parental absenteeism, (e) Mother dominance, (J) Father rejection.

(a) Broken homes:

Studies show that children coming from broken homes where parents are separated or divorced lead to delinquent behaviour, than those children coming from broken homes where the home is broken by the death of the parent. Thus, this cause of delinquency seems to be affecting more the children of western countries where separation and divorce of parents are quite common and even every day affair.

There are, in fact, very few incidences in western countries where the parents have not been at least once separated or divorced. But in India, it is not a common cause of delinquency as separation and divorce are rare among Indian married couples.

In a study of institutionalised delinquents in the state of Colorado, Barker and Adams (1962) found that only about one-third of the boys and girls come from complete home setting i.e., where they live with both their original parents.

(b) Faulty discipline and child rearing practices:

When the parents or one of them use rigid discipline it leads to the elevation of hostility in the boy for the fact that all the wishes and desires of the child are restrained. This leads obviously to the development of an antisocial, hostile and rebellious personality in the growing child. Constant suppression of desires makes him like boiling inside.

Conflicting views of parents regarding discipline and etc. also contribute. The child rearing practices if are faulty and based on rigid dictatorial principles, if the child is not handled with due love and care, if the discipline is harsh, inconsistent and irrational, his suppressed aggression is vented through antisocial and delinquent behaviour.

(c) Sociopathic parental models:

Glueck and Glueck (1969), Ulmar (1971) and Bandura (1973) have found high presence of sociopathic traits in the parents of the delinquents. , Sociopathic traits include alcoholism, brutality, antisocial attitudes, failure to provide frequent unnecessary absences from home, lack of communication with the child. All these traits make the father an inadequate and unacceptable model for the child.

According to Scharfman and Clark (1967) the chief variables in the delinquent behaviour of girls were (a) broken homes combined with emotional deprivation, (b) irrational, harsh and inconsistent parental discipline, (c) patterns of only aggressive and sexual behaviour modelled by psychopathic parents.

(d) Parental absenteeism:

In studies of juvenile delinquency, Martin (1961) and others have emphasised the feeling of unrelatedness and detachment from the family and society as a key cause of delinquency. Lack of communication with one or both parents, leads to the failure to learn appropriate social values. This finally leads to a tendency to act out inner tension in hostile and destructive manner.

Why this feeling of un-relatedness or insecurity arises in young people who differ vastly in age, I.Q. personality make up and S.E.S.? A key source of this feeling appears to be parental absenteeism. When parents are too much absorbed in their own occupations and activities, and do not provide the youth optimum attention, needed support and encouragement during the crisis period of the growing age, they turn to peers and others as models who might be lacking the qualities of ideal models for the child.

Mother dominance:

When the father is busy with his own work and commitments, or for other reasons, if he plays a submissive role in the family life, the mother takes over the function of providing affection and discipline to the boy. During adolescence, the boy who has already identified with the mother and depended greatly upon her as a role model probably finds it difficult to develop a masculine self concept. Thus, he expresses his masculinity, independence and courage and finally the so called male ego in rebellious and proving offenses. By being engaged in such antisocial acts, he gets the satisfaction that he is really masculine.

(f) Father rejection:

Andry (1962) on the basis of the findings of his studies, concluded that the delinquent boys felt rejected by their fathers but loved by their mothers. Non-delinquent boys, on the other hand, felt to be equally loved and cared by both the parents.

A child, who is rejected by one of his parent’s day in and day out, develops naturally an inner feeling of hostility towards him. The gap in communication and lack of understanding between the two paves the way for antisocial behaviours in the form of anguish, aggression and hostility. When he finds that a large part of his world is unable to deal with him properly, he in turn does not like to understand the world either. This hostility is transformed in the form of antisocial and delinquent behaviour. He in fact, lacks normal inner controls. He does not have the basic values of life. He has no moral principles; no dos and donts of life. So he tends to act out his aggressive impulses.

(g) Undesirable peer relationship:

Delinquency is said to be a gang experience. In support of this Hanery and Gold (1973) found that about 66 per cent of the delinquent behaviours are committed in association with other persons. Usually, it is a homogeneous group, so far as sex is concerned.

General sociocultural factors

(a) Alienation and rebellion:

It is viewed by many ego psychologists that the modern youth is only a bundle of confusions so far as his values of life are concerned. Most surprisingly, it is common in youths coming from all socioeconomic levels. They do not accept the values of their parents and they are even confused of their own values and sense of identity. Thus, in short, they are all in a mess. What to accept and what to reject they know not they always show a feeling of alienation from family and society at large.

This lack of identification and development of clear values turn them to the outer world, to peers and friends for guidance and approval. They take drugs and engage in other illegal, antisocial activities. There are innumerable instances where many modern youths who run away from home as a sort of reaction to their rebellious feeling tend to join gangs, indulging in delinquent behaviour or prostitution and so on.

Similarly, socially disadvantaged youths such as belonging to lower income groups, lower social caste and lower status, may turn to delinquency also.

The social rejects:

Young boys and girls who lack the motivation to do well in school become drop outs as soon as they can; just like the boy in Gulzar’s film “Kitab”. But they do not qualify usually for any job. They feel irrespective of class, sex or wealth that they are not needed in the society. This lack of hope, feeling of uselessness and that they are rejects of the society lead them to show undesirable antisocial behaviour.

Many of them remain unemployed. Those who somehow get some employment are funnily, unable to hold the job, and so they shift from job to job, engage in delinquent behaviour, partly as a result of frustration and partly due to confusion and hopelessness.

Delinquent gang subculture:

This deals with the rebellion against the norms of society. If a person is rejected by the society, his inner tension is often revealed in serious delinquent acts like beating and fighting leading to serious physical injury. As Jenkins (1969) has put it “The socialised delinquents represent not a failure of socialization but a limitation of loyalty to a more or less predatory peer group. The basic capacities for social relationship have been achieved.

What is lacking is an effective integration with the larger society as a contributing member.” In addition to other important causes of delinquency those who feel inadequate and rejected by the group, society, join gangs and indulge in antisocial activities. Gang membership provides them a sense of status and approval and a sense of belongingness which they did not get from their family and other social agents.

In a gang, the responsibility or blame of threat is not shouldered by any individual member, but by the gang as a whole. Thus some prefer to steal or booze and do other illegal acts in the name of gang. Studies have shown that the groups outside the home have a tremendous impact on the personality of the adolescent. The gang starts as a play group, in the absence of playground facility; the children start playing in the streets and eventually form a gang and the behaviour of the person is mostly influenced by the gang and so he develops delinquent tendencies.

Though the gang has all the characteristics of an in group like cooperation, unity, fellow feeling belongingness it is also associated with crimes like rioting, stealing, homicide, rape, dacoity, corrupt politics, boozing, eve leasing, assault and murder and so on. Thus, in an organised way they create terror in the area.

Studies have shown that these children will roughly be between 10—16 years age. They also come from poor families with constant friction between parents and family members. Those children who usually become the members of the gang have often little or no parental guidance.

Studies also indicate that delinquency is committed in groups and in company. Shaw analysed 6,000 cases of crime and found that in 72 per cent of the cases two or more companions were involved. Healy reports that companionship was a single factor causing delinquency in 34 per cent of the cases while Burt gives the figure at 18 per cent and Udaysankar gives it at 23 per cent

In recent years female delinquents have also developed their gangs with a purpose to protect and defy themselves. They find a sense of acceptance, belongingness, give and take, sympathy, understanding, companionship, loyalty, power and authority which they do not find in the socialised world, which they consider to be an out-group. It is also a fact that many of these gangs are not organised and cohesive.

Role of Stress in Delinquency:

In certain instances serious traumatic experiences may lead one to become a delinquent. This is proved in one-third of the cases studied by Clarke (1961). These traumatic experiences may range from death of parents, children and husband, broken or disorganized family life etc.

Burks and Harrison (1962) have also stressed the function of stresses which directly threaten the adolescent feeling of inadequacy and worth as precipitating events in some cases of aggressive antisocial behaviour. According to Finkelstein (1968) accumulation of emotional tensions also lead to a final outbreak in the form of delinquency.

Treatment and Rehabilitation of Delinquents:

Delinquency had always been considered as a legal and social problem. So psychologists and psychiatrists did not pay much attention to it until it was considered as a psychological problem. Currently in all the progressive and civilized countries of the world the laws with regard to the juvenile delinquents have been changed. Special courts are established with specially trained magistrates for the trial of the delinquents.

Today delinquency is being looked upon as a misbehaviour than a crime. In every state the children’s act has been changed. For instance, the Bombay Children’s Act (1944) required custody, control and punishment of young offenders.

It also provides for the establishment of reformatory schools for them. But the revised Bombay Children’s Act of 1948 provided not only for custody and control, but also for treatment and rehabilitation of young offenders.

Unfortunately, there are only two states in India, i.e., Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which have juvenile and child guidance centres. In many states probation officers are appointed to watch on the juveniles and look after their educational and vocational needs. They are sent to schools and encouraged to peruse their studies and learn a vocation.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are always attached to look after their difficulties. In western countries delinquents in small groups are brought up in residential areas and given individual treatment, to have in them the feeling that they are a part and parcel of the society. Thus, they are removed from the aversive environment and allowed to learn about the world of which they are a member.

If required, they are given individual therapy, group therapy and psychological counselling. Here their behaviour is resocialised by the help of group pressure. Counselling with the parents in the rehabilitation centre is also of immense importance for the rehabilitation of delinquents.

Institutionalisation may not be quite successful in case of juvenile status offenders, Le youths whose offences have involved acts that would not be considered criminal if committed by an adult, such as running away from home or engaging in sexual relations.

If such types of delinquents are kept with those who have committed serious crimes, they would in turn learn these from them. So it may aggravate their behavioural problems instead of correcting them.

The teachers of reformatory schools opened for rehabilitating delinquents should act as substitutes of good, warm and understanding parents and help the children to obtain a sense of security and involvement. The school must also develop a number of group activity which will help to change his ego.

The parents must also be helped to develop an insight to the problems of the boy, to have insight to their own behaviour as well which has led to the maladjustment in the child.

The society and public should also change their attitude towards delinquency. Society as a whole should give up its fear and hostility against the criminals and delinquents. They should develop a flexible attitude so that proper analysis is made of the conditions leading to delinquency and adequate steps are taken both with respect to the treatment and prevention of delinquency.

Vast amount of money is being spent now in India and other countries to develop recreational centres. Mentally retarded children should be dealt with caution by the parents and the teachers for they are more liable to turn towards delinquency.

They should be taught in such a way that their attention can be sustained. In case of psychopathic and neurotic children they should be given the opportunities of necessary therapeutic measures to prevent the development of delinquent behaviour.

All kinds of delinquents should not be given similar rehabilitation facilities. Differential diagnosis of the delinquents for this purpose is necessary. This can be made possible by the services of professional psychologists and psychiatrists.

In spite of these rehabilitation programmes it is true that they are not enough keeping in view the rapid growth of juvenile delinquency in the entire world. The inadequacies of the correctional systems are being changed. Besides, effective rehabilitation programmes, long range programmes to prevent delinquency should be prepared.

This can be made possible by improving the conditions of the slum areas’, provision for suitable educational and recreational facilities, education of parents, disciplined and organised society with role relationship defined, development of proper ego identity and so on.

Odell (1974) has developed a programme that combined educational development and job placement facilitating entry into the opportunity structure more effective than traditional casework methods in preventing juvenile recidivism. Finally it can be said that the emphasis should be more on rehabilitation than punishment.