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The lure of gang life


This article first appeared on FMT. The image above is sourced from FMT.

PETALING JAYA: The best thing the country can do to fight gangsterism among its youth is to allow the community to take the lead in prevention programmes, says a renowned criminologist.

In an interview with FMT, P Sundramoorthy of Universiti Sains Malaysia said the country’s young people, like those of any country, tended to join gangs to get a sense of belonging and to feel secure.

“In developing countries, and especially in middle-income and low-income families, both parents work and their children are left unsupervised throughout the day,” he said.

He noted that the number of Malaysian women joining the workforce had been increasing since the 1980s. He said this phenomenon, coupled with the half-day school system, meant many children were unattended for long periods of time.

“Furthermore, many Malaysian families are shrinking and those in urban areas do not live in the same neighbourhoods as their relatives, such as the aunts and uncles. So many children are left to their own devices.”

To these children, he said, gangs act as surrogate families and provide them with the sense of belonging, security and prestige they lack at home.

“We have to find a way to minimise the opportunities for schoolchildren to interact with gangs,” he said.

“On the part of the authorities, they have to clamp down on gangs. But so long as children are left unsupervised and without a sense of belonging, security and prestige, they will look for these elsewhere.”

 The principal assistant director at Bukit Aman’s Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies Division, SAC Rohaimi Md Isa, earlier told FMT that the rise in the number of young gang leaders was a cause for concern.

He pointed to the recent high profile arrests of young gang leaders and the increased number of hardcore gangsters under the age of 21 detained under the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca).

Sundramoorthy said schools could not do much to combat gangsterism as their authority ended at the school compound.

He said that was why it was important to develop after-school programmes similar to those in some countries.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “There are many successful after-school programmes which equip students with skills and knowledge in sports, cooking, technical fields and more.”

He said such programmes would, apart from reducing opportunities for students to get involved in gangs, add value to their lives.

In the US, after-school programmes that have achieved notable success include San Francisco’s Bayview Safe Haven, the Baltimore City Police Athletic League, LA’s BEST and the Los Angeles-based After School All Stars.

Sundramoorthy said the success of such programmes hinged on the participation of local communities. Community organisations should be given the freedom to conceptualise and develop the programmes, he added.

“But at the moment, we may not simply introduce a programme related to education in a state or district without Putrajaya’s approval as education is a federal matter.

“Also, different communities have different challenges, needs and resources. We can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. Each community where gangs are present must be able to develop its own after-school programmes.”

He said gang-prevention initiatives should ideally be spearheaded by local authorities with the support of local businesses, NGOs and individual volunteers, with the federal government playing a supervisory and supportive role.

“Gangs are a community problem; so you need a community solution,” he said.

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