Sunil Kumar Yadav is 19 years old and he’s trying to return to a path that offers a positive future. Back when was 12 he was convicted of theft and subsequently spent more than a year in a juvenile center. What he experienced there still haunts him.
At the age of 10, Yadav was kicked out of his village home in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh by his stepmother only a day after his father died.
Alone, he befriended some wayward youth who taught how to rob and steal. Within two years he’d become acquainted with pickpocketing, house burglary and car break-ins. It was during a burglary that he was caught and handed over to the police.
“The first eight days were hell. I cannot even tell you how ruthlessly the police beat me up and locked me in a solitary cell,” Yadav told LiCAS.news.
“I was later sent to a juvenile center where the conditions were worse than the police station,” he said.
“We were being treated as cattle and herded into worm infested, dilapidated rooms. The simmering heat of summer was torturous and so was the bad behavior of the wardens.”
After a year and two months in the juvenile center, Yadav was released.
“While I was in detention I decided that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life as a criminal. I didn’t want to be put in a cage again,” he said.
“I resolved that I’d find the legal means to earn a living but for society I was already a criminal who cannot be trusted and who cannot be given a job. I had become an outcast.”
It wasn’t easy for Yadav to find work but when he did, it was as a low-paid waiter at a local tea stall. Six years later he has the same job.
“But even now, I’m taunted by people as a criminal and a robber. I promise you I haven’t robbed anyone since the day I was out of that cage,” he said.
While Yadav has not benefitted from the help of any social groups to try and help him get his life back on track, there are some — like Caritas India that are now doing so.
Last month Caritas in Uttar Pradesh launched the Child Friendly Corners program aimed at assisting children who have come into conflict with the law.
Caritas spokesman, Anjen Beigh told LiCAS.news that the program emphasizes a child-friendly approach.
“This includes the behavior, tone and attitude of the people interacting with them and what type of physical infrastructure they are being put in,” Beigh said.
As part of this, Beigh said that church agency has made efforts to develop secure ‘child friendly corners’ at local police stations with the approval of local authorities.
Caritas is also trying to ensure that a child, who has also allegedly committed a crime, has access to a child psychologist.
Caritas workers with the program are also looking for other ways to assist children like 11-year-old Ram Kumar, have second chance.
Ram was arrested in December last year for pick-pocketing and was sent to juvenile center for three months. In the first week of January he was contacted by a Caritas worker who offered him school admission and a scholarship on behalf of the program.
“I was asked whether I want to lead my life like this [in a center] and also want my children to become pick-pockets? Or am I willing to study and earn respect in the society?” Ram told LiCAS.news.
“I chose to study but I do not want children to call me with names like thief or a criminal,” he said.
Beigh said that Caritas plans to also hold awareness events in villages so to share with communities that children who have done detention should not be treated as outcasts but as individuals who can adjust and play a positive role in society if they are given the proper support.