By Denrele Animasaun from London
“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members” —Pearl S. Buck
In the UK, youth crime today is growing steadily into uncontrollable gang warfare, so often seen on TV or in movies. Children, as young as 11, are joining gangs (crews) and becoming part of the society that nurtures violence and street crime.
The phenomenon was not taken seriously until the prominent cases of the likes of Damilola Taylor, Stephen Lawrence and many others. Prior to that, it was assumed that youth on youth crimes was a known person crime, which is not.
These young people who attack others for just venturing into their area or wearing a different colour or disrespecting them. You cannot remonstrate with these children and sadly their choices hereafter is predictable; the police, the morgue , the jails and even the psychiatric wards.
The call to curb such criminality was to slap an ASBO (anti social Behaviour Order) on perpetual trouble makers it worked for awhile, until amongst the group it was seen as a badge of honour.
The relevance of this is that of the area boys, and it’s profiltration into everyday vocabulary. Area boys.
The name is not cute nor is it harmless. In the week that Nigeria marked Children’s day, it is about time that young people should be high on the agenda. What it is very clear, is that young people are falling through the net.
These “boys and girls” have inadequate education, no health and social care, lack of direction in terms of their stake in the future. This is dismal. None of the grandstanding by successive administrations has made a positive shift since the passage of the Child Right Bill (CRB) that was passed into law by the National Assembly, in May 2003.
Area boys (some are hardly children!) are unemployed, delinquents, school dropouts, drug users, petty thieves whose one raison d’être is to cause chaos, fear and instability in the lives of others. It is common knowledge that they are also used as muscle for local politicians. Living this low life is now an alternative lifestyle that the government cannot be ignored, if they do so it will at their peril.
No one knows for sure how many area boys are there but, conservative counts put them as much as 100,000.
In other societies, young offenders are seen as the product of the government’s negligence towards the parents or the children themselves; someone needs to take responsibility for these children rather than wishing them away and ignoring or temporarily disposing of them within the penal institutions.
When Fashola became the governor, his speech showed the seriousness to tackle the issue: “It is common knowledge that violent crime in the country generally and Lagos State in particular was on the increase in recent times.
We are presently confronted with a citizenry living in fear as a result of the wanton and rabid activities of armed robbers, and miscreants who have taken delight in striking at random throughout Lagos State particularly in the metropolis,”
He continued that: “Our administration has a mandate from the people of Lagos State to provide security and ensure that hoodlums and armed robbers do not terrorise them.
Perhaps, instead of focussing on the results and punishments of youth crime; the government should be concentrating on causes and solutions to youth crime.
Common statements from these erring Area boys are: ‘We have nothing; others have plenty so we will take what we want.’ Or “ we don’t want to live like this but we don’t have jobs or money and so on.
By the looks of things, nothing has changed. Actually it has got worse, much more worse. In these trying times when the gap between that have- a- lot and those who have not has widened, it is the duty of the government to ensure that those that are less privileged are given a lifeline to live a useful life and have some semblance of normality.
The government should set out four steps for tackling youth crime- engaging with young people, supporting child victims and witnesses, helping those who may turn to crime, and responding to offences. You can’t end a circle of violence by punishment – only by providing the help that wasn’t available in the first place.
There should be a sustainable programme that educates, train for a trade, given access to health care, adequate housing for the duration of their training. We cannot stand back and wish these people away. The lack of parental love makes them hostile and cynical towards the society. They show contempt for other people, and the total lack of any moral sense that it demonstrates.
When this tendency goes to an extreme, problems arise. Some of the young want to throw away all the traditional principles and beliefs, most of which are very good for self-cultivation. They are reluctant to listen to the advice from older generation.
School education plays an important role to teach traditional beliefs. Secondly, the present situation also calls for a control and supervision on the mass media. Books and programs should be in good quality.
There should be more educational books and programmes for young children to tell them how to distinguish the right from the wrong.
Thirdly, mutual understanding between parents and children is also very important. Parents can spend much time staying with their children and patiently carry out the duty of family education.