Oblivious to the controversy taking place outside the high walls of this juvenile reform home, 30 children – a mix of substance abusers and criminal suspects, some charged with rape and murder – are busy learning and playing at a workshop.
They are taking part in a pilot project backed by the charity Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM), which supports reforming juveniles who are in conflict with law.
In India a juvenile under the age of 18 can only be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board. No matter what crime, the punishment cannot exceed three years, with their time spent in a reform home.
But this is all set to change as the government is in the process of lowering the age to 16 years for juveniles who commit heinous crimes. Once passed by parliament, these juveniles will be tried as adults.
The Juvenile Justice Act came into the national spotlight after the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in December 2012.
One of the accused was six months short of 18 and was given a maximum three years at a juvenile home.
Parents of the woman challenged the order and petitioned the Supreme Court of India, wanting him to be tried as an adult.
Speaking to Sky News, India’s Minister for Women and Child DevelopmentMeneka Gandhi said: “The job of the government is to respond to the mood of the nation and the mood of the nation is that we are fed up with children committing heinous crimes and you can call that pressure.
“It is a response to a feeling that is all over the country. This act has been delayed by six months and I have had far more flak for delaying it than pushing it.”
But charities and child right activists oppose the legislation.
Dr Rajesh Kumar, director of SPYM, said “Our conviction is that if you provide an opportunity for those between 16-18 the chances are that 95% will reform… If you are denying the opportunity to 95 % that is not good.”
Saddam, 20, lived almost half of his life in crime. As one of the youngest of nine children,Saddam grew up in Seelampur – a vast slum in Delhi.
His life of crime began when he was just eight years old in drugs and robbery. At 13 he murdered a man for money to fuel his habit.
Arrested and charged, he was sent to a juvenile home. In and out on bail he carried on his criminal activity as a gang leader.
At 16 he knifed a man to death while robbing him. After he was charged, he was sent to a correction home at SPYM.
Dr Kumar said: “He was a very difficult case but his turn around exemplifies the success of the reform process. He is totally reformed and works as a cook with us.”
Saddam told Sky News: “If 16-year-olds are sent to adult jails they will not have the opportunity to reform. There they will get hardened even further and will feel they can do anything they wish. If I was sent there at that young age I would never have reformed.
According to the National Crimes Record Bureau, heinous crimes committed by those between the ages of 16 and 18 have increased over the years. They also account for almost two thirds of the total crimes committed by juveniles.
But child rights activists have challenged the interpretation of these numbers saying that juvenile crimes are just a fraction of the total crimes committed in the country.
Ms Gandhisaid: “Children are really aware of what they can get away with. Many gangs employ criminals, choosing them deliberately at the age of 16. In fact there are written orders out in terrorist groups saying ‘if you can, get a 16-year-old to do the work’.
“It’s a matter of time for this legislation to pass as there is not much opposition. But the question is, is the country ready to cope with its outcome?”