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Critical Analysis Of Female Criminality

One of the major issues in society today is female criminality, which is also a topic of discussion in academic fields including psychology, criminology, and sociology. Because of the dehumanizing aspects of women's roles in the capitalist system, women are more likely to commit violent and property crimes as well as a number of other horrific and non-traditional offenses.

The writers additionally attempted to clarify the acceptability and veracity of theories of female crime about the criminal behaviours of women. Secondary sources are primarily used in this research. Data were gathered from a variety of sources, including books, research reports, government documents, and journal articles. When analyzing the reasons behind female criminality in modern civilizations around the world, theories of female criminality are the most pertinent and important. Over time, there has been an increase in women's offenses.

Crime is thought to be a largely male phenomenon. A woman is seen as the guardian of traditions, conventions, morality, family cohesion, and social standards. Women's standing has evolved from caring for their families to establishing their own identities. Women have expanded their personal experiences and education to gain work in previously male-dominated fields such as business, banking, politics, law enforcement, and, yes, crime.

The emergence of the women's liberation movement accelerated the transition. The women's liberation movement altered traditional female roles and created new opportunities. Increased employment prospects for women also resulted in increased criminal activity. It is regrettable that women exhibit a slight inclination towards criminality.[1]

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the proportion of women who commit crimes is growing. Despite the prevalence of women's involvement in crime, social scientists and planners have paid little attention to understanding the patterns in offences committed by women. According to the NCRB Crime Report, 2014, while women commit fewer crimes, they are only arrested for crimes under the IPC.

Female Criminality- International Perspective:

Only 30 countries matched the criteria for participation in this study, which examined data from 1950- 1972 on homicides, major theft, and total criminal offenses committed by women. These statistics indicate that the female proportion of murderous acts is decreasing rather than increasing, and that females commit far fewer large larcenies than murders. The proportion of female criminality was compared to the degree of male-female economic equality, and the level of national socioeconomic growth.

An increase in murders by females was associated with low social/educational equality between the sexes, high male-female economic equality, and low socioeconomic development. Variations among countries suggest that modernization benefits both men and women economically, but because it benefits men more, the differential between the sexes may increase. These strong relationships were not evident for female major larceny. Overall, modernized nations tended to have an increasing female contribution to the total crime rate.

Female Criminality In India:

Female criminality has been a neglected problem due to the idea that women are less likely to commit crimes and are more law-abiding. In Indian society, women are seen as the guardians of social norms, traditions, customs, morality, and family cohesion. The family system in India is patriarchal by nature. A woman is never a person in her own right; she is first a daughter, then a wife, and finally a mother to a man. The male members of the household protect the wife. Their engagement in criminal actions is lower than that of men. In India, R.K. Sharma conducted a study on female criminality in Uttar Pradesh in 1963.[1]

He investigated the psychological and sociological aspects of female criminality. Ram Ahuja launched the study and research work[2] on female criminality in 1967�1968. He proposed "Social Bond Theory" to explain the origins of female criminality and provided fresh theories on the reasons of female criminality. His view, which was endorsed by other Indian academics including R.K. Sharma, Neera K. Sohany[3] (1986), and B.R. Sharma (1993), holds that familial maladjustment is the primary cause of crime.

Female criminality in India is a subject of growing significance, reflecting a complex interplay of socio-cultural, economic, and systemic factors. While historically overshadowed by male-centric narratives of crime, the involvement of women in illicit activities is gaining attention due to evolving societal dynamics. This introductory overview aims to shed light on the multifaceted nature of female criminality in India.

Traditionally, women's roles in Indian society have been prescribed within the confines of domesticity and familial responsibilities. However, shifting socio-economic landscapes, alongside changing gender dynamics, have led to a nuanced understanding of women's engagement in unlawful behaviours. From petty theft to involvement in organized crime, women across India navigate diverse pathways into the realm of criminality.

Several key factors contribute to the prevalence of female criminality in India. Economic disenfranchisement, exacerbated by poverty, unemployment, and limited educational opportunities, often pushes women towards illegal means of sustenance. Additionally, entrenched patriarchal structures, pervasive gender inequalities, and societal pressures can constrain women's agency, leading some to seek empowerment through unconventional, albeit illicit, avenues.

Violence against women, including domestic abuse and sexual exploitation, further complicates the landscape of female criminality. In some cases, women may resort to criminal acts as a form of self-defence or retaliation against their oppressors. Moreover, vulnerabilities associated with human trafficking. The legal framework and criminal justice system in India play a vital role in addressing female criminality. There are some factors affecting the female criminality in India are as follows:

A lot of economic, political, social, biological, and psychological factors affect women's criminality.

A few of them are briefly explained as under:
  • Biological Factors: Researchers studying biochemistry argue that hormonal imbalances and other biological factors have a negative influence on women's criminal behaviour, yet it is still debatable if biology plays a role in making crimes easier. Biological and psychological markers of criminal causation during menopause and pregnancy include mood swings, odd urges and desires, and momentary awareness-impairing.[4]
  • Industrialization And Modernization: Industrialization and modernization have made antiquated social control mechanisms ineffectual. The issue of female criminality is thought to be caused by society's quick shift from convention to innovation. Hostility is the result of disagreements between institutional means and societal ideals, and this leads to anomalies in women.
  • Personal Factors: Women who experience abuse at the hands of their husbands, in-laws, or other family members may turn to criminal activity. Several personal variables can lead to women committing crimes, including: husbands who indulge in gambling and alcohol, and a lack of affection and family life for the women.
  • Poverty: One of the main causes of female criminality, particularly in India, is poverty. The connection between poverty and female criminality is well demonstrated by a few court rulings, including Shreerangyee v. State of Madras and Re Maragatham.[5]
  • Psychological Factors: Psychologists view criminal behaviour as something that the offender picks up via his interactions with various people. Factors such as distressing situations, behavioural disorders, unbalanced marriages, tense relationships with parents and spouses, and dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics within the family have been identified as contributing factors to female criminality.[6]
  • Social Factors: In India, social factors play a crucial role in fostering and incentivizing female criminality. A number of reasons, including poor parenting, bad neighbourhoods, rivalry, conflict, social disorder transference, conjugal variables, and a lack of education, are contributing to the rise in female criminality.
  • Under-Age Employment and Bad Working Conditions: While underage employment and unfavourable working conditions are some of the main economic variables encouraging crimes among women, the absence of employment may be concerning for adult males.[7]
  • Women's Emancipation: In the past, women did not have the same access to resources as males. However, now that women are free and have begun to enter previously unrestricted fields like the workforce and social networks, they will have the same possibilities as men to commit crimes.

Theories Of Female Criminality:

Early explanations (1890's to early 1950's) of Female Criminality tended to view crime and Human Behaviour in a more general way. Theories surrounding criminality tended to attribute crime to biological or social factors; beyond the control of the individual committing the crime. For most traditional explanations, women and their criminality were viewed as ancillary, or secondary to that of males. Female Criminality was often explained in simple terms, with simple motivations. To understand the cause of female criminality in present era, the major theories of feminist criminology has been propounded from time to time. The most important among these theories are as follows:

Theory of differential opportunity:[1]
Opportunity theory makes no difference between morality of male and female. The theory states that biological characteristics are not relevant for the commission of crime. The theory explains that with the increase in female opportunity, efficiency and social communication, the rate of female criminals also increases accordingly. Some women take advantages of these opportunities just as men do before.

Although increasing opportunities of women reduces the rate of violent female criminality but increases the rate of offences like theft, embezzlement, fraud and forgery Opportunity theory by Rita J. Simon (1973) the book titled Women and Crime proposed that increasing different opportunities to women increases criminal activities as well.

According to the empirical findings of this theory, males have historically been more involved in crime than females due to higher social chances, skills, and networking. Simon stated that when more women enter the labour market as skilled workers and hold highly specialised jobs in the job sector, they commit more employment-related property crime than men.

Some women take advantage of these chances, just as some males did previously. On the other side, she adds, "If women become more skilled and educated, they will be economically independent in the future." As a result, the rate of violent crime among women will be reduced, as women generally conduct violent acts against their husband or inmate partners.

Biological theory:
The contribution of Cesare Lombroso is considered as the fundamental of scientific study on female crime. He observed, female criminality as inherent feature of the female species is rooted in biological makeup of the female species. He viewed through his physical studies that the female criminals were born criminals and possessed different bone composition and visual appearance when comparing them with law-abiding females.

Lombroso and W. Ferrero, authors of The Female Offender (1899), defined the female criminal as masculine, unnatural, forceful, jealous, filled with revenge, unfeminine and deficient of maternal emotion. Physical deformities of the female offender include malformations of the skull, brain or face, possible squinting eyes, twisted nose, receding forehead, big ears, hairy bodies and tattooing/ The female offender was devoid of any feminine traits and possess more masculine physical traits.

She disassociated herself from the law-abiding female who was maternal because her physical traits were masculine Lombroso (1899) described the female offender as biologically dysfunctional. He asserted that female criminals are more dangerous than male criminals because cruelty by a female was much more refined and heinous than men, He also stated that primitive women were rarely criminals, but always prostitutes, and found that women possessed many physical and mental characteristics of males which suppressed female maternal drives and induced greater criminality in women making them more cruel and unmerciful.

Psychological theory:
This theory was propounded by Sigmund Freud (1962) who stated that women who are not passive and content with their traditional roles as mothers and wives are maladjusted. Maladjusted women refuse or fail to internalise the values associated with the role in society.

Women convicts display emotional instability, insecurity, rejection or frustration. They would have encountered harsh living conditions, disappointments in love and a large number of unfortunate experiences which generally made it difficult for them to face realities of life. Stress is higher for women on average than for men, primarily due to blocked opportunities, and the conflicting message of motherhood versus work.

Labelling theory:
Labelling theory by Morris, believe that deviant women are more likely to be labelled as mentally ill‟ where their male counterparts are labelled as �criminal‟. According to this concept, nothing is criminal but certain things have been so defined and labelled by society. Persons become criminal primarily on the basis of visibility of offending behaviour and the labelling process by the system of criminal justice.

The labelling process is defined as:
  1. No act is intrinsically criminal but is made so by the law
  2. Criminal definitions are enforced in the interest of powerful groups by their representatives, including the police.
  3. A person does not become a criminal by violating the law, but by labelling process by which authorities confer this status upon them.
Differential association theory:
The theory of 'differential association' was propounded by Edwin H. Sutherland, in 1939. His theory is considered as the first pure sociological theory'. The differential association refers to the patterns of behaviour to which the individual is exposed, i.e good company or bad company. It says that "the crime is learned behaviour that is imparted by other persons with whom one associates.

Also known as learning crime theory, was given by Sutherland and Cressey who said that crime behaviour is learned. Women do not mix in criminal circles because their gender role defines them as wives and mothers and restricts their sphere of influence and experience to the home. Girls are taught to be nice and do not have freedom of males hence they do not get chance to learn criminal behaviour.

Masculinity theory:
The book published by the prominent female criminologist Freda Adler, Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal, has helped to develop the masculinity theory. Masculinity theory was the new explanation of the masculinity complex in the arena of theories which derived from sociology. This theory suggests that female criminality is mainly dependent on the masculinity behaviour of females.

The empowered women are involved in more serious crimes than non-empowered women due to masculinity. Although this view cannot be taken as appropriate in every situation because empowerment of women cannot be ignored on this view point. It is the basic human right of every girl /woman to be empowered.

Women Empowerment means developing a sense of self-worth, a belief in one's ability to secure desired changes and the right to control one's life. With the liberation of women, crime was born for the female offender. As women gained more independence, part of that independence would be evident in criminal activity. However, the expectation of home responsibilities have not changed for women, thereby increasing the level of stress and the likelihood of future delinquency.

The women's liberation movement created new opportunities for women to commit crime outside of their comfort area, which was their home The places that women were now committing crime were in the professional male arena such as embezzlement in the workplace.

Control Theory:
The control theory perspective suggests that every person has bad and good qualities only because of the social environment, social values and norms around him. This theory states that conformity is caused by control, and therefore the lack of control causes deviance. Hirschi[2] focusses on four means through which control over people is secured by the society; being attached to conventions, commitment to conventional institutions such as work, school etc., involvement in these same activities; and belief in the conventional norms of behaviour. It should lead to conformity.

This idea is set out as a gender-neutral idea, but it remains a male-gendered theory. It makes criminality a less rational and available choice in the case of females than it is in the case of males. Thus, it is not women's nature which makes them more conforming but arises in the way society controls them, together with fewer opportunities.

Social Bond theory:
Social Bond theory by Ram Ahuja has put an explanation from an Indian perspective. This perspective is primarily concerned with the pattern of family relationships within the family and outside the family either nuclear family or joint or by kinship groups or neighbourhood and peer groups. These family-centred explanation "or pressure of primary relations perspective" produces a desire or a need to deviate from social and/or legal norms.

The personality structure or characteristics like frustrations, deprivations or dominant underlying need prevent this deviation I some women, but failed to do so in other cases. Thus, both personality system and pressures of environment in which a woman works contribute to female criminality. This theoretical model focuses on "strength of character", "role conflict", "opportunity" and "totality of situation" in family.

Marginalisation theory:
The theory explains the nature and etiology of female criminality. According to this theory the claim that more participation of females in workforce does not indicate improved economic condition for women or more gender equality. The position of women is marginalised by less salary, unrespectful occupation and less secured job.

This theory argues that the major causes of female crime are unemployment, poorly paid employment, inadequate welfare payments, and the increasing number of females headed households with large number of children. Women are motivated to commit crime as a rational response to poverty and economic insecurity. The mainstream marginalisation theory is strongly related to other two theoretical trends. These two are 1) Marxist theory, and 2) Feminist theory.

According to Marxist Smith (1980), in her article "Women, crime and deviance"[3], "In capitalist social structure, female commit crime as a result of their socialization process." The real conditions of the aforementioned causes induce the female gradually towards a marginalisation position and, as a result, females commit more crime for their economic need.

On the other hand, feminist theorists emphasised on the early child- hood experience of women's physical and sexual torture and relate this to female criminality[4] .Chesney-Lind and Sheldon said, "the exploitation and torture on female by male instigates themselves to commit crime and drug addiction."

Nature Of Crimes Commited By Women:

The nature of female crimes that have been the consequences of several postulations have been provided hereunder;
  • Education: It has been noted that females who have not gotten a basic education or are illiterate lack thinking and rationale in their actions, which is mirrored in their poorly socialized criminal instinct. Knowing the law and committing a crime, as opposed to not knowing the law and committing an offense, show that the former will have an advantage over the latter. Studies have shown that the majority of women in the Ferozepur, Jaipur, and Varanasi prisons were uneducated. While Ferozepur had 67.7 percent illiterate women, Varanasi prison had 71% illiterate women, and Jaipur had 61.3% illiterates.
  • Religion: Human behavior has always been influenced by the strong forces of religion, whichever religion it may be. Therefore, it is through this religion only that the clues necessary to understand the varying incidence of crime rate among different sections of the community can be found out.
  • Caste: Caste is a major factor in defining a person's social standing. In general, upper caste women are more likely to commit crimes against individuals than women from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and N.T./D.T. (Nomadic Tribes/Denotified Tribes), who are more likely to commit property crimes. This idea implies that the level of enjoyment, desire, and urge vary with social status and position.
  • Marital: Marital status must be considered when considering female offenders since it relates a female to social responsibilities and satisfying expectations, which creates pressure for females. When such pressures turn the wrong way, the ladies engage in criminal acts. Married women are more likely to be involved in crimes against people, whereas unmarried respondents are more likely to be involved in property crimes and other offenses.
  • Occupation: Offenses vary among females depending on the career they acquire. Housewives, for example, are more likely to commit crimes against individuals than women whose vocations vary from services to business and domestic help, as they are more likely to commit property crimes.
  • Income: In the twenty-first century, many people believe that economic independence is the highest level of independence an individual can achieve. When it comes to the issue of female criminality, removing women's dependence on males in their families has a lot to do with it. An individual's money has an impact on his or her social behavior. Crimes differ based on the same.
  • Family: Individuals' personalities and ideals are heavily influenced by their families. It has often been observed that ladies from dysfunctional households are more likely to be involved in crimes against individuals. Those from nuclear families commit property crimes, whereas females from joint families commit crimes against people.

Types Of Crimes Committed By Women:

Traditionally, the crimes committed by women were limited to petty crimes and crimes such as shoplifting, prostitution, etc. Now, women are engaged in all kinds of crimes such as:
  • Adultery
  • Blackmailing
  • Drugs Trafficking
  • Forgery
  • Kidnapping
  • Marital Crimes
  • Murder
  • Theft and Pickpocketing
  • Smuggling
  • Terrorism

These are only some examples of the crimes committed by women in recent times. Now their involvement in smuggling, white-collar crimes and even terrorism has come to stay as a big poser.[1].

Causes Of Female Criminality:
There are various reasons for commission of crimes by women; some of them are as follows:
  1. Economic causes: Economic hardships and poor economic conditions is the basic cause of female criminality. Economic insecurity results in shop-lifting, fraud, theft of services and welfare frauds. Most of the offenders are from lowest economic strata of society.
  2. Social causes: Despite of constitutional safeguards, Indian women are subjected to inequalities and social oppression affecting her financial dependence. Strained relations in family, extra family relations, ill-treatment by husband, denial of basic needs, maladjustment in marital conflicts, unemployment, child care expenses, broken homes, torture and sexual abuse and dowry deaths of women are some factors which may lead a woman towards the crime.
  3. Illiteracy and low education: In India, a large population of women is illiterate or they do not have minimum educational opportunities. There is a clear relation between illiteracy and crime.
  4. Psychological causes: Many female criminals have signs of emotional instability and frustration. Stress level in women is higher than men although it can be said that they are psychologically stronger than men but they are more likely to explode with extreme uncontrolled violence. They are also more suspicious than men which may become a factor of the commission of crime.
  5. Cultural causes: The education received by women is more repressive than received by men. One of the most determinative factors for women creating their own subcultures with regard to female criminality in the family.

Need For New Approach To Prevent Female Criminality:
The following are some of the steps and measures that can be useful for the prevention of female criminality in India:
  • Amendment of laws
  • Community-Based Prevention Programs
  • Crime Prevention Institutions at Community Level
  • Interdisciplinary research in the field of female criminality
  • Keeping a check on gender discrimination in the families, school and workplaces
  • Learning Programs for Female Offenders and Rehabilitation
  • Reformation of the criminal justice system
  • Rehabilitation and Reintegration
  • Reintegration of Women Offenders
  • Responsible Media
  • Sharing of social and domestic roles by men and women equally instead of demarcating the same[1]

Related Case Laws:
The crimes which are committed by women is increasing day-by-day due to changes in lifestyles, discrimination of women in family life and workplace environment.

(Rajiv Gandhi assassination case) State v. Nalini (1999) 5scc 253.
On May 21, 1991, a horrible act was committed, shocking the entire country. Dhanu, an LTTE activist, assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, by detonating a disguised belt bomb below her waist, and the explosion also claimed the lives of Haribabu, a conspiratorial photographer hired to capture the horrifying scene on camera. On his body, an undamaged camera was discovered at the crime scene. When the film in the camera was processed, the heinous acts carried out by the accused and others came to light.

A conspiracy charge was brought against 41 people, 12 of whom were already deceased and 3 of whom had escaped, for offenses under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987, IPC, 1860, Explosive Substances Act, 1908, Arms Act, 1959, Passport Act, 1967, Foreigners Act, 1946, and Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933. On the accusation of conspiring to commit murder, each received a death sentence under Section 120-B read with Section 302 IPC and various other minor offences.

On May 21, 1991, Nalini, the deceased accused Sivarajan, Dhanu, and Subha met Haribabu at a bus stop and went to the public gathering location. Dhanu and Subha were covered by Nalini, and when Rajiv Gandhi came, Dhanu managed to get close to him. It was then that she set off the explosive device that was hidden in her waist belt, which caused the explosion. The death sentences of Santhan, Murugan, and Arivu were upheld by the Supreme Court in a stunning ruling. Regarding the severe punishment of death imposed on Nalini, it was confirmed by a majority vote of 2:1 (Wadhwa and Quadri) that Thomas J. mitigated the death sentence to life imprisonment.[1]

State (Delhi Admn.) v. Laxman kumar (1985) 4 scc 476
The Delhi High Court's decision clearing the respondents was challenged in appeals brought before the Supreme Court of India by the Delhi administration and the Indian Federation of Women Lawyers. Laxman lived with his brother and his family after getting married to Sudha. The deceased's mother-in-law, Shakuntala, used to pay regular visits. Cries for assistance came from their home one day. When the neighbours heard the screaming, they raced to the apartment and discovered Sudha on fire. After the neighbours put out the fire, she was sent to the hospital, where she passed away the next day.

Shortly after the neighbours congregated outside the apartment, Sudha issued a definitive statement and, while route to the hospital, pointed to her mother-in-law as the killer, stating that she had set her on fire after pouring kerosene on her body. Sudha also indicated Laxman as having actually set her on fire after pouring kerosene.

The Supreme Court awarded life imprisonment to Shakuntala and Laxman, holding them responsible for killing Sudha by setting her on fire.

Renuka Bai v. State of Maharashtra (2006) 7 scc 442.
The Supreme Court in one of its historic judgements, upheld death penalty to two sisters, Renuka and Seema, who had horrified Maharashtra by describing them as a menace to society.

The facts of the case were horrifying. Nine of thirteen children in the age group between nine months and two-and-a-half years in Sholapur and Nasik districts of Maharashtra, had been kidnapped from time to time either from school or market during 1990-1996 and killed by the accused. The accused, with a perfect accomplice in their mother Anjanbai and husband Kiran Shinde had made chain and purse snatching as their profession. Anjanabai died before trial and Shinde got pardon on turning approver.

The trial court of Kolhapur found the sisters, guilty of murdering six children and awarded death sentence to them and the Bombay High Court confirmed their sentence. The appellants were not committing these crimes under any compulsion but they took it very casually and killed all the children, least bothering about their lives or agony of their parents.

The feminist theory of female crime appears to be the best fit for analyzing female criminality. Women are particularly susceptible in India, where patriarchy is greater than in Western countries. Women were victims of both domestic and external violence. Women murder their husbands and male relatives when they fail to stop domestic violence and sexual exploitation by male relatives or are forced to become prostitutes.

Because of women's increased participation in criminal activities over the last two decades, there has been a significant need to study women criminals, since the place and function of women in Indian society has changed. Society and the criminal justice system believe that women will continue to leave their mark on crime scenes and that they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Though crime as a whole has been analyzed from its inception in society, the concerns of female offenders and how they are seen have never been at the forefront.

The recent rise in female criminality highlights the ineffectiveness of established crime theories un explaining this phenomenon. Theoretical criminology cannot effectively explain the phenomenon of women and crime because it is sexist and concentrates on men's behaviours, interests, and values while disregarding equivalent analyses of women.

The rate of female criminality has increased significantly over time. Technology, exposure, and awareness have all contributed to the surge. However, it is vital to prevent crimes from occurring in society, regardless of the gender of the criminal. As a result, appropriate authorities, educational institutes, and media must implement preventive measures such as legal awareness, sex education, social action movements, pre-marital and post-marital counselling, public awareness, help, and support for females who feel left out or lonely by their families, and so on to reduce the excessive increase in female criminals in society.

Furthermore, female criminals who have been jailed must be supplied with suitable rehabilitative and supportive guidance that can help them develop their personality and make them understand what is right, and what has been categorized as wrong. These constrictive steps can help female criminality to take a positive turn towards slowing down, gradually.

  1. Ahuja, Ram Criminology, Rawat, Jaipur, 2000.
  2. Bajpai, and Bajpai, Female Criminality in India, Rawat, Jaipur, 2000.
  3. Bhosle, Smriti S., Female Crime in India, Kalpaz, Delhi, 2009.
  4. Criminality and penology (including victimology) by prof. N.V. Paranjape
  5. Criminology by Larry j. Siegel.
  6. Ahmad Siddique's criminology penology and victimology by S.N Afzal Qadri, 2016.
  7. Criminology by Katherine S. Williams,
  • Ghosh, Subhra, Female Criminals in India, Uppal, New Delhi, 1986.

Written By: Vathramugi.R

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