Recently I was sitting outside a classroom at a school watching school children running around. They seemed innocent and one could not think that they could be offenders. However, from the way they played and communicated one could easily observe a stern and commanding voice from others while the restjust brushed away every raging instance thrown at them.
A scholar (E.C Bennette et al 1996) refers to a child offender as super predator. As much as there is a numerous number of adult offenders there are also an astonishing amount of juveniles who commit serious crimes each and every day. Bennette highlights that juvenile crime is not new and it actually evolves with time. A common way of measuring crime is using Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). Not questioning its accuracy, one can dictate that there is child crime in all regions of South Africa.
As much as it sounds absurd and rather disconnecting, it is justice to find the motive behind child crime. Recent research shows that at least a quarter of young men in South Africa will commit at least one offence in their lifetime. Of that number, 80% will commit only two offenses. The remaining 20% are responsible for 80% of South Africa’s offending youth. In fact, this is not only a South African phenomenon but a worldwide perspective. There are what we called persistent offenders and adolescent offenders. They both experience severe behavioural problems at a tender age. Their lives are usually marked by multiple adverse influences and experiences that range from street bullying to family dysfunctions. It is evident here in Brits Town that close to 90.5% of juveniles who use illegal substances and commit both major and petty crime had a rather harsh up-bringing. Thus, they tend to take out their childhood frustrations on things that later on become a trend and a road to their life of crime at a tender age.
As much as there are a large number of juvenile crimes being dealt with every day, there are also a number of them that are not reported. This is because the offended family will be afraid of being responsible for a teenager’s sentencing. In some areas they resort to corporal punishment or just solving the matter the traditional way, which evolves negotiating damage fees.
There are a number of factors surrounding child crime but we are only going to look at a few. These include: history of their conduct; use of alcohol and other drugs; male gender or female gender advantage; aggression; poor supervision by parents; one of the parents has a history of anti-social and criminal behaviour, lack of a parental figure etc. This is just but a common list of reasons behind child crime.
Taking into consideration the age of juveniles (11-17 years), we have to understand the protocol and procedure taken from the time the case is reported up to the time when the investigations are complete and the courts make a decision. A detective of Brits Police Station says that when a juvenile commits a crime they are taken to a place of safety. They cannot be detained but are rather attended to by social workers pending the investigation. If found guilty, minors are not subject to sentencing but are sent to diversion centres. These are places intended to change or transform their thinking. This is rather remarkable because they usually suffer an emotional breakdown during the investigation process. Detectives also highlight that there is a fluctuating number of juvenile cases, most probably because some are not reported, hence there is no confirming documentation.
Potentially, a child with a good upbringing is bound to have a good life but not guaranteed success. Of late, it has been a police service duty to ensure the safety and reduction of child crime. However, like it is said ‘charity begins at home,’ it is every parent’s responsibility to ensure a good and safe upbringing for their child. It is their duty to teach them responsibility at a tender age.
As much as we have highlighted the causes of child crime; it is the duty of justice to give solutions to these so called misfits. Parents or guardians must try by all means to attend their childrens functions at school or socially. It is not that they will succeed or win when their parents or guardians are around but it will give them power to press on even when times are tough and not resort to crime.
Police can also create campaigns in schools as well as around the community. This will help educate children on issues they are likely to encounter. There can also be child or youth workers who teach children and teenagers how to firmly communicate with their parents or guardians. Social services can also intercede and play the parental role in the lives youth who do not have parents.
Conclusively, it can be said that it is difficult to be definitive with child crime and its causes. This is a drifting world we are living in and trends tend to change with time. However, all we know is that we can identify child crime by first identifying risk factors for offending and talk about interventions that can reduce these, or we can increase protective factors in the live’s of our youth. Interactions with young people will need to address communication issues, drug and alcohol problems, anti-social peers as well as parenting issues.