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.

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