Adolescence is the stage of development which precedes adulthood. It is a time of great physical change in young people. It is characterized by rapid growth, hormonal change, changes in bodily appearance, changes in brain structure. This stage is characterized by emotional turmoil, insecurity, peer influence, risk taking behaviour, irrational decisions, pushing limits on permissible behaviour. It is also a time where young people make mistakes, which if not dealt with constructively, and sensitively, could result in them ruining their lives. Adolescence is a time where young people need to be surrounded by a protective system, positive role models, and be engaged in positive activities which channelize their energies to good use.
The term adolescence meaning "to emerge", or "achieve identity" is a relatively new concept, especially in development thinking. The origins of the term is from the Latin word, 'adolescere‘ meaning "to grow, to mature" indicate the defining features of adolescence. However, a universally accepted definition of the concept has not been established.
WHO defines adolescence both in terms of age (spanning the ages between 10 and 19 years) and in terms of a phase of life marked by special attributes. These attributes include:
Adolescents aged between 10-19 years account for more than one-fifth of the world‘s population. In India, this age group forms 21.4 percent of the total population (National Youth Policy 2000). Characterised by distinct physical and social changes, the separate health, education, economic and employment needs of adolescents cannot be ignored.
Adolescents are entitled to socio-economic rights but often their inability to exercise these rights places in Child Care Institutions (CCIs) puts the onus on policy makers to frame laws and regulations in such a manner that the same can be implemented enabling them to have access to their rights. It is important to invest in adolescents as they are the future leaders and participants in development of the country.
Care-givers in CCI for children in conflict with law deal with adolescents who have made wrong decisions or grave mistakes and are alleged to have or have committed an offence. Most of these children, are from poor and illiterate families. They did not receive the required guidance and protection, from the family or community and are vulnerable to negative peer and adult influences. It is generally seen that children who are accused of crimes are addicted to some kind of drug abuse. Drug abuse is linked to other socio-economic factors such as literacy, economic background, unemployment and gender. The highest risk groups are male, illiterate and semi-literate youth from rural communities. Street children constitute another major risk group and several interventions to curtail drug abuse among this group have been initiated by the Government such as Open Shelters under Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) and the drug de-addiction centres for vulnerable children.
Drug use has two major side-effects - it increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and it is linked with higher crime rates and anti-social behaviour. These reasons provide a strong case for serious efforts to curtail the problem. Integration of awareness of drug abuse and its consequences in the curriculum, reinforced by life skills education to negotiate and withstand peer pressure and reduce risky behaviour can be identified as effective strategies.
Adolescents and youth, with their penchant for experimentation and exploration of new ideas and activities are especially vulnerable to drug abuse, and form the majority of drug users worldwide. In India, it is estimated that most drug users are between the age group of 16-35, with a bulk of them in the 18-25 age group. This group should, therefore, be at the heart of any drug demand reduction programmes. In India, in the North Eastern states, drug abuse among young people has become a major problem, threatening the social fabric and structures of society.
The main role of care-givers in CCI for children in conflict with law, is to mentor, guide and help young persons who have committed/alleged to have committed crimes, to take accountability for their actions, undergo a process of reformation and make a fresh start. In cases of children who have been addicted to drugs or substance use, it shall be the responsibility of care givers in the CCI to explore and provide such children with appropriate drug de-addiction programme through convergence. As young persons who have come in conflict with law are adolescents, it is important for care givers to understand the phase of adolescence in order to work with them and their families in the most effective manner as possible.