A study conducted by Public Defender Society of Nepal reveals that a high percentage of juvenile delinquents being kept at the eight correction homes across the country were mainly from two ethnic groups, indigenous nationalities, and the Dalits.

Executive Director of PDS Nepal Ajay Shankar Jha presented a research report at a workshop today saying that out of 917 juvenile delinquents surveyed at eight correction homes, 322 belonged to indigenous nationalities and 183 were Dalits. Out of 917 juvenile delinquents across the country, 169 are Madhesis and 118 are Chhetris. Forty-one child delinquents are from the Brahmin caste.

Jha said almost all correction homes were overcrowded. Biratnagar Correction Home was housing 190 juvenile delinquents against a capacity of 50 children. Rupandehi Correction Home which can house 60 juveniles has 105 children. Jha said though police claimed to have a surveillance centre for keeping the juvenile accused, in practice, they did not have any police office surveillance centre. "Police often keep juveniles along with accused adults, but when rights activists visit them, they bring the juveniles to the surveillance centre claiming that they are being kept there," Jha said.

Among the juvenile delinquents, 487, the highest number face rape charges. Jha said that in some cases, boys and girls below marriageable age were living as couples, but the girls' parent lodged complaint accusing the boys of rape.

Jha said juvenile delinquents were deprived of legal aid and even when the court-appointed lawyer defended them, the juveniles were not told they were represented by court appointed lawyers.

Jha informed that the legal provision, which says the court should not allow police to exceed the five-day time period to arraign juvenile delinquents, was not followed by the court.

Supreme Court Justice Ananda Mohan Bhattarai said reform in juvenile justice could not be effected due to non-enactment of rules.

He said criminal justice should be reformed to prevent juvenile delinquents from relapsing into crime.

Advocate Nani Maya Thapa said that despite the law prohibiting police from handcuffing juvenile delinquents, police often brought them to the courts handcuffed.

She said that due to absence of physical infrastructure in the courts, lawyers often took the juvenile delinquents to a far corner of the court room or sometimes even to the toilet to consult with them.

General Secretary of PDS Nepal Advocate Pankaj Kumar Karna said the research paper exposed the situation of correction homes and highlighted the need for other researches in order to understand why more children from particular ethnic groups were indulging in delinquent behaviour.

Senior Advocate Lav Kumar Mainali said that children were not delinquents by birth. "It is our society that creates situation that makes children indulge in delinquency, " Mainali added.

Minister of Women, Children and Senior Citizens Uma Regmi said that she had been trying to enact rules to bring the desired reform in juvenile justice, but due to non-cooperation of bureaucrats, the ministry had not been able to do so yet.

She said that she would try her best to ensure that juveniles at correction homes got the opportunity to continue their studies and learn skills that could help them earn money.

The minister jointly launched a book containing court orders in child delinquency cases.

Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission Top Bahadur Magar said laws related to children should be made at the provincial levels as well in order to protect the interest of children.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.