Biology to Society: The Genesis of Youth Crimes

Juvenile Crime is not naturally born in the boy, but is largely due either to the spirit of adventure that is in him, to his own stupidity, or his lack of discipline, according to the nature of the individual. – Robert Baden-Powell

This statement often makes one wonder, what could be the possible causes behind the crimes that are committed by the juveniles? Why would a child or a teen, who are not even allowed to vote because they aren’t considered mature enough, take such a decision to harm someone else, that too in a way which is quite traumatizing. Although the real question here is why are some individuals more prone to commit crimes than others?

There could be a number of reasons to answer that question. Factors leading to Juvenile Delinquency could be related to External Influences that includes family issues like broken families, parental rejection, neglect, etc., social issues like peer groups, neighborhood, etc., or Internal Influences that include psychological issues like personality disorders, feelings of insecurity, lack of self-control, etc., and biological issues like hormonal imbalance, sudden surge of rage, etc.

As per Carr (1950), a typical family is one which is structurally complete i.e. both of the parents are alive, practically sufficient i.e. every part plays out their normal job that lessens clashes, financially secure i.e. satisfying significant necessities of individuals, and ethically solid i.e. every part adjusting to moral values of the family[1].  Going by this definition of a typical family, the kids growing up in families wherever anyone of the parents isn’t there, would face tons of difficulties. They won’t get the financial backing, the emotional support, nobody would be there to inform them what is acceptable and what is not. The lack of a father figure would make the sons want to seek more masculine peers and identify with them. Their functioning will be very different from the ones with a “normal” family. Aside from that, Wright & Wright (1994) said that children who are rejected by their parents, grow up in homes with considerable conflict, and are inadequately supervised are at greatest risk of becoming delinquents.

A quantitative study done by Singh & Bhandari (2017) in Uttar Pradesh, to investigate the educational alongside the family background and the monetary status of the juveniles which influences them or which brings about the wrongdoing amongst them, concluded that a family’s low income, family background and lack of parental supervision of their children are the primary factors contributing to the increase in the trend of delinquency. J.Jayabharath & Mrs. V.Udayavani (2018) carried out a coordinated survey by meeting 50 prisoners of the Government Observation Home of Rourkela Sub Jail, Odisha for understanding the causes behind juvenile delinquency, and the actions that are being taken for the positive improvement of the youths in struggle with law. The results showed that the offenses made by the juveniles were essentially a direct result of the blend of various individual and regular elements, viz. particular danger factors of the juveniles, thoughtlessness and numbness of the guardians, peer impact, poor monetary status, family weight and lack of suitable socialization.

As children grow up, they begin to realize how complicated the world where they live is. They need a structure that makes them feel safe and loved, bad parenting does the exact opposite. An example of bad parenting resulting in the child becoming a criminal would be the fable of “The Boy and His Mother” where a boy, who was caught stealing and was about to be executed, desired to see and speak to his mother for the last time. She was brought in front of him and he requested to whisper to her, when she leaned in, the boy nearly bit off her ear. When the horrified people around asked him why he did that, he said that he had been stealing things since he was a child and when he first stole something and went  to show his mother, instead of scolding him, she said “It will not be noticed”, it was because of her that he was there at that moment. If only the mother had been attentive and told him what was the right thing to do. The child could have lived a decent life.

As much as family plays a role, peers also help shape a person’s character in a way. People often adopt delinquent tendencies due to peer pressure. Adolescents of age 12-16 and young adults of age 16-18 years are more prone to showing delinquent behavior if they are in contact with delinquent peers. The influence of peer groups is a great matter to focus upon when talking about juvenile delinquency. Agarwal (2018) notes that according to Cloward and Ohlin (1960), juveniles develop different delinquent techniques depending upon what opportunities are available in their surroundings. That implies if the kids have a chance or are allowed to take part in coordinated wrongdoings, at that point they will discover that and make it their calling, just like learning medication and turning into a specialist.

The neighborhood where the person grows up also plays a very important role. After family and peers, the child spends a great time in the neighborhood. The neighborhood can contribute to delinquency by blocking basic personality needs, engendering culture conflicts and fostering anti-social values.1 The children living in neighborhoods filled with repeat offenders and the ones providing inadequate facilities are more likely to turn to delinquency as vices are being cultivated there. Poverty as well as lack of education plays a part in juvenile delinquency.

A meta analytic research using different studies between 2004 till 2016, applicable to the subjects of the investigation was done in the University of Karachi by Masood & Ali (2019). It aimed to find out what roles family, peers and neighborhood played in the development of delinquent behavior in adolescents, wherein the results indicated the importance of family, peers, neighborhood, monetary elements and personal variables as reasons for the development of delinquent behavior. While in another study done in Odisha by Mishra & Biswal (2018), the examination of the information from the NCRB reports of the years 2006-2016, suggested that most juveniles have become remorseless survivors of various financial compulsions like poverty, absence of parental guidance, absence of education, peer pressure and so forth.

Many theories also support the argument that external influences like family, peers and neighborhood do result in development of juvenile delinquency. For example, Merton’s Anomie Theory (1938) which talks about how in our society culturally accepted goals are widely shared, while the legitimate means to attain them are not, which leads to individuals attempting illegitimate means to attain their goals. Likewise, Shaw and McKay’s Social Disorganization Theory (1942) studied certain neighborhood areas in Chicago that lacked social bonds in the community and thus, giving high rise to juvenile delinquency.

External influences, as we have seen, play a significant role in influencing an individual’s behavior. Similarly, internal factors like personality and biology of the individual motivates them to behave in a certain manner. Individuals who are already suffering from a personality disorder are more inclined to become delinquents as their psyche is already weak enough, they also lack self-control. They experience emotional conflicts which makes them quite unreliable. At the point when one has low self-esteem or are filled with insecurities, they tend to drift towards where their peers take them, so as to compensate for their lack of self-conviction. A cross-sectional and descriptive study done by Maruf et al. (2015) on female inmates of Juvenile Development Centers in Bangladesh, where the aim was to see the socio-demographic correlation, prevalence of misuse and offence amongst female inmates with psychiatric disorders, showed a high percentage of psychotic disorders among the offenders. Another comparative study conducted by Sinha (2016), on male criminals of district jail of Dhanbad, Jharkhand and normal public, to find out the relationship between personality factors and delinquent behavior, indicated high scores on intelligence, self-sufficient, spontaneity, self-concept control factors and low scores on emotionally less stable on Cattel’s 16 PFs scale in criminals compared to normal individuals.

One such disorder that might lead to delinquency is the conduct disorder, which is a serious behavioral and emotional problem among children and teens, wherein they might show a pattern of disruptive and violent behavior and have troubles following rules. Of course, these issues are seen in every teen, but becomes a disorder when it is long-lasting, harms others and disrupts the normal functioning of the individual’s and their family’s lives. One such example reported by Kumar (2007), where a child with conduct disorder committed such a heinous crime that it shook the whole nation is the case of Amarjeet Sada, who became the youngest killer in the world because he had allegedly killed 3 by the time he was 8 years old. His first victim was his own eight-month-old sister, second victim was his maternal uncle’s daughter, but these were not proven as the boy’s family considered it “family matters” and covered all traces. It was the third victim, a six-month-old girl named Khushboo, that this matter was taken to the police. After being questioned, he didn’t show any emotion other than smiling, he wouldn’t even talk about the murders. A psychoanalyst was called and said that he was “a sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain on others”.

The debate between nature and nurture will always keep on going on. On one hand, there is the innate need for chaos while on the other hand, there are the lessons learnt in life. The genetic makeup of an individual makes them who they are, in a way. Individuals are not all about their nature but it does play a part in them making an appropriate choice for themselves. An alcoholic’s child will also be more inclined to alcohol addiction. Yet, whether they follow through that addiction or not, is their own free will. This free will works on the way the individual was nurtured and the way they interacted with their environment. A research study done by Tuvblad & Beaver (2013) aimed to examine genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behavior, biological and individual risk factors associated with antisocial behavior and candidate genes and antisocial behavior by reviewing and summarizing papers related to the mentioned topics. The entirety of the included papers address significant points that will add to our comprehension of antisocial behavior. As mentioned above, genetics paired with the environment could be as detrimental as it can be beneficial for an individual. An analytical study done by Boisvert et al. (2019) on the same sex twins from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), looked to inspect whether and how much hereditary and environmental elements add to the relationship between substance use and various types of delinquent offending across males and females, where overall it showed that there were regular hereditary factors that influenced the use of marijuana and offending in both the genders.

There is no specific factor that makes an individual lean more towards delinquency. It is the amalgamation of all these previously mentioned factors, so to say that one factor affects delinquency is not correct.

Although there are numerous studies done on juvenile delinquency and factors leading to it, there is still too little data on the topic. That is because the primary goal for the juvenile justice systems is to rehabilitate a juvenile, rather than to punish them. Thus, to shield the juveniles from social and professional shame, their records are generally kept confidential. This is why sufficient data is not provided to the public and juvenile delinquency is not seen as a big issue in the country.

As there are many reasons for crime, there are many risk factors too, for delinquency that criminologists should zero in on, wherein the most important one that ought to have the prime focus of all officials is the lack of effective mental health services and the limited access to it. The presence of a disorder is not an excuse for committing a crime. Although awareness should be spread, there should be a greater effort to identify students or children whose violent behavior might be due to anxiety or depression or any other stressors in their lives. This can help us in reducing juvenile delinquency.

[1] Ahuja, R. (2000). Criminology. Rawat Publications.


The main author of the above article is Ms. Virti Shah. Her qualification is B.A. Psychology, and pursuing MA Criminology with Specialization in Forensic Psychology from National Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.

The co-author of the above article is Ms. Krupa Nishar who is PhD (Pursuing Forensic Psychology), M.Sc. Forensic Psychology and Assistant Professor at National Forensic Sciences University.

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