When bomb hoax calls are made by children as young as eight, it is time to call in experts. Exactly what harried Delhi Police, battling a spate of prank calls by youngsters between the ages of eight and 16, have done by seeking the help of psychiatrists.
The Mumbai terror attack and its aftermath have thrown up the worrying phenomenon of children getting a vicarious thrill from creating panic by calling up the police control room.
In the 13 days since the blast, Delhi Police have received 17 bomb hoax calls -alerting them about bombs in a cineplex, inside the Red Fort and other public places and three in India Gate alone.
In the course of the investigations, police have arrested seven children, teenagers and those in their pre-teens.
The trend is even more troubling given that it comes days after the 7/11 blasts in Mumbai when newspapers and TV screens were full of pictures of mangled bodies, injured passengers and grieving relatives.
Alarmed, senior police officials have sought help from psychiatrists to counsel the youngsters and try to make them understand the consequences of their pranks.
"We have sought help from psychiatrists so that those who have been arrested or detained can get proper counselling on the possible consequences of making such calls," said Anil Shukla, deputy commissioner of police.
He said his team had recently received threat calls from two children aged eight and 10.
"They had made calls to the police control room and informed that there was a bomb at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
"It took us almost four hours to search the entire premises of AIIMS. Police teams from different police stations along with the bomb disposal squad and the dog squad were pressed into service to verify the claims of the caller," said Shukla.
Finally, when the police managed to trace the callers, "we found that an eight-year-old boy and another 10-year-old had phone in from a cell phone".
"We did not arrest them and send them to juvenile homes, but instead invited counsellors to speak to these children and find out the possible cause of making these calls," said Shukla.
Likewise, in the latest incident Monday, the call about a bomb being kept in India Gate was traced to a 10-year-old.
"It seems these children are making calls for thrill and adventure without realising the possible consequences of their behaviour," said Jitendra Nagpal, psychiatrist at the Vidya Sagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHANS).
"Children from dysfunctional families are prone to high risk behaviour and it also speaks about the environment these children are living in," Nagpal told IANS.
Similar arrests were also made Sunday when a police team arrested two teenagers, aged 15 and 16 years, for making calls about a bomb in west Delhi's Satyam Cineplex. Teenagers of the same ages had called from Tehri Garhwal in Uttaranchal threatening to blow up India Gate.
"In their age group, some children are categorised under high risk behaviour. They do not apply rational thinking even though these children are aware of the possible consequences of their actions," added Nagpal.
He added that teenagers make these calls to try out new things and see the reaction.