Child crime worries experts

2008-02-16 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL has become a breeding ground for child criminals, and experts say that the lack of discipline, drugs, poverty and the breakdown in family structures are some of the reasons behind the increase in the number of young children committing serious crimes.

This week, two northern KwaZulu-Natal boys were arrested for the murder of the 73-year-old grandfather of one of them. They beat the man with a wooden stick after he refused to give them money.

In kwaMashu, a 16-year-old boy shot a friend in the leg after an argument. The teenager is still on the run. In the same area, a 14-year-old was arrested after he raped his 11-year-old neighbour.

In another incident, pupils at a Durban school burnt tyres and stoned a police vehicle during a protest over overcrowding in classrooms. Near Pietermaritzburg, a 17-year-old boy was hacked to death by a group of teenagers.

Questions were also raised on whether the proposed school pledge will have any affect on reducing these numbers of brutal crimes by children, some as young as 10.

The pledge, which will be recited in school assemblies, encourages pupils to respect and protect others. The national department of Education hopes it will help develop responsible young South Africans with values and morals.

Police told Weekend Witness that more and more violent crimes by children are being reported.

They are concerned that the majority of the crimes were carried out with stolen guns and knives during school hours.

Many called for government and welfare organisations to get involved with finding solutions.

Many of these crimes are reported in the Zululand area where poverty, HIV/Aids and drugs have caused children to turn to crime.

According to a report released by the department of Correctional Services, figures showed that in 2006 more children had been involved in violent crimes such as rape and murder.

From 2000 to 2006, there was an increase of eight percent (from 35% to 43%) in the number of children admitted to juvenile institutions.

KwaZulu-Natal crime monitor Mary de Haas said that although child criminals are not a new phenomenon in the province, the number of incidents involving children under 16 has increased significantly.

She said in many cases, adults use children to carry out their “dirty work” because they know the justice system will be lenient towards them.

“This is not a new trend, but it is still a major concern for us. One has to determine whether these children are being used,” she said.

De Haas also said social problems like child-headed households and drugs cause children to turn to crime to support their families and their drug habits.

“Many of these children have no parents or a support structure and this forces them to turn to crime. Unscrupulous adults also get them hooked on drugs,” she added.

Children’s easy access to guns is another problem that needs to be addressed.

De Haas said school crime is rife and is turning classrooms into war zones.

“Where are these children getting the guns from? There needs to be special focus on where young children are accessing guns and how they are getting into classrooms,” she said.

She said violent crime in classrooms and the increase in child criminals are also linked to problems within families.

“We hear about kids being shot in schools and teachers being intimidated. These child criminals have no proper role models,” she said.

On the proposed school pledge, she said it will not make a difference to the current crime situation as children need proper discipline at home.

“Children need proper role models and discipline and these should start in the home and then be followed at school,” said De Haas.

Police spokesman Superintendent Vincent Mdunge said: “This is a huge worry for us. There have been many reports of cases at schools. Pupils are taking weapons into the classroom,” he said. Mdunge said government and non-governmental organisations need to integrate to address the problem.

Educational psychologist Fathima Essack said moral decadence, apathy and acceptance of unlawful behaviour could be reasons for the increase in child criminals.

“There is total disregard of social norms and a blurred distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Hence the scenario where children are left confused as to appropriate and inappropriate behaviour,” she said.

“Children need rules, limits and structure. It provides them with behavioural guidelines defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.”

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