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Juvenile Delinquency and its Causes: Theoretical Perspectives



First things first, when an adult commits any antisocial behaviour or deviates from some socially accepted norm, his behaviour is called ‘crime’. Whereas, the same crime when committed by a child, is known as ‘delinquency’. Why so? It is done purposefully to reduce the intensity of the action committed. By doing this, we avoid children from being labelled as criminals (as the one who has committed crime becomes criminal). Labelling children as criminals make them criminals in real. This is what the labelling theory is all about. You will again come across this theory down in the article.

The term 'delinquency' can be understood as the deviation from the course of normal social behaviour. In other words, any act or the commission of an act that is prohibited by the law is known as a 'delinquency'. Thus, the phrase ‘juvenile delinquency’ means any sort of behaviour of a child that violates the law or deviates from social norms. However, which age group of children falls under the category of ‘Juveniles’ is determined by the juvenile law of the country where the delinquent lives or commits the crime. For example, Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 defines juvenile delinquency as the criminal behaviour committed by someone under the age of 18.

The subject of ‘juvenile delinquency’ falls under the discipline of ‘Criminology’. Criminologists are concerned with determining the causes of the crimes and ways to stop them. Similarly, what causes juvenile to commit a crime is also one of the areas of study for criminologists. Through extensive researches, the positive school of criminologists has highlighted various biological, psychological and sociological causes of juvenile delinquency that are based on the theoretical study of crime causation. Moreover, we would also see what the classical school of criminologists says about the causes of juvenile delinquency. Here, we will thoroughly study all these causes and theories of crime.

Classical Approach to Juvenile Delinquency

The classical theorists of criminology hold the view that juveniles are rational people having free will (the ability to make rational choices). Thus, they calculate the benefits and costs associated with criminal behaviour. If benefits exceed costs, they commit a crime and vice versa.

Positive Approach to Juvenile Delinquency

The positive or a scientific approach to criminal behaviour of juveniles can be studied in three categories; as follows:

Biological Causes

Mainly two major theories fall under biological causes that explain reasons for juvenile delinquency on a biological basis.

One is the Body Type or Somatotype theory, according to which the muscular and unusual bodily features determine children’s tendency to commit a crime. In other words, the theory holds the view that unusual and distinct physiques of children make them susceptible to antisocial behaviour.

The second theory is the Extra Y Chromosome theory that says, the presence of an extra Y chromosome in a male increases his chance of getting involved in violent crimes.

Psychological Causes

Let us just quickly skim through the psychological factors behind juvenile delinquency.

According to B.F. Skinner’s Behavioural Theory, children repeat rewarded behaviour and terminate the punished one.

According to Albert Bandura’s Learning Theory, children learn criminal behaviour from observation.

According to Sigmund Freud’s Psychodynamic Theory, the human personality is composed of three-part structure: id, ego and superego. The id follows pleasure principle, and ego compensates for the demands of the id by helping the individual monitor his actions to remain within the boundaries of social convention, while the superego forces the ego to control the id by directing the individual into morally acceptable behaviours that may not be pleasurable. Thus, the psychodynamic theory says that children who do not make the transition from id to the ego, are also prone to get involved in crimes.

Sociological Theories

Sociological theories point to the societal factors that are responsible for juvenile’s criminal behaviour.

Social Disorganization Theory says that socially disorganized areas with the poor neighbourhood, lack of rule of law, etc. make children more prone to criminal behaviour. For example, many children in Liyari, a disorganized area in Karachi, Pakistan, became part of gangs and got involved in criminal activities.

Merton’s Strain Theory says that unavailability of legal means to achieve cultural goals like money leads juveniles to adopt illegal means to attain the objectives. Such juveniles engage in crimes like theft, etc.

Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory (also known as Social Learning Theory) suggests that people learn criminal behaviours and attitudes from close relationships and intimate groups like family and peers.

Labelling Theory (as already discussed) asserts that children become criminals when they are labelled as criminals. They make those labels their identity.

These were the scientific factors behind juvenile delinquency. There are also some other causes or factors behind juvenile delinquency in many third-world or developing countries like Pakistan; i.e. poverty, illiteracy, child labour, criminal peers and issues related to parenting like uneducated parents or broken or divorced families, also lead children to criminality.

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