Pitted against Each Other: Cases of Sexual Offence within the Juvenile Justice System in India

in Children and Childhood: Practices and Perspectives

Sexual offences are a complex social phenomenon with multiple dimensions. The involvement of children as perpetrator and victim at the same instance magnifies the problematic. Official statistics in India show a consistent rise of such cases since 2000. The projection disturbs the romantic idea of children and childhood. Crime and children appear as a socially perplexing oxymoron. It calls to attention the societal agenda and functioning of child protection systems. The notion of violation is intrinsic to the imagination of offence, which renders protection as inevitable. The legality of these acts is founded on the perception of harm and consent, along with the presence or absence of both. Agency and consent emerge as essential points for interrogation. The role of the Juvenile Justice System as a state mechanism remains significant in this regard. A qualitative enquiry through the study of registered cases and interview of officials suggests the construction and perpetuation of an idea of Childhood within the legal structure. It is as much defined by the cultural convention of the society where it operates, as it sets the standards of culturally approved codes of conduct. Normalisation of behaviour results in institutional positioning of children as victim and perpetrator. It is imperative here to debate the notion of Child Protection; why should children be protected and from whom? This chapter presents a critical analysis of the role of the state in conceptualising Child Protection within the paradigm of the Juvenile Justice System in India; through the prism of reported cases of sexual offence involving children both as victims and perpetrators. It argues that the perpetuation and preservation of Childhood is an obsessive imagination of the adult world.

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