Monday, October 18, 2010

A young challenge for the lawmen

Comment by LOURDES CHARLES

More and more youngsters are turning to crime, a problem that has the men in blue worried.

THE young, as we all know, are often reckless. There always have been rebels without a cause, but the recent sharp rise in the number of crimes by teenagers is sounding alarm bells.

In the past weeks, youths have been making headlines, with several caught on video assaulting a fellow student, and others involved in rape, drug abuse, theft, illegal racing, extortion, robbery and even murder.

In the most recent case in Terengganu, several teenagers on motorcycles defied police orders to stop and even ran down two policemen manning a roadblock.

What has startled, even shocked, the police are the brazen acts of contempt and defiance.

The statistics are worrying. Last year alone, more than 7,000 youths, nearly half of them students, were arrested for various crimes. They come from all kinds of backgrounds – the well-to-do, middle class and broken families.

It can happen to any of us working parents who are too busy to know how our children spend their time. Guilt-ridden at not spending enough quality time with teenage kids, many working parents overcompensate with pocket money, PlayStations and the latest mobile phones.

In major Malaysian cities, the parenting role seems to have been passed on to the maids. Not many families have grandparents staying with them, unfortunately.

Most teenagers return home to an empty house with little parental supervision, let alone guidance and love. So they turn to their peers instead.

The Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) has also found other contributing factors for the increasing teenage crime rate, and these are often beyond the control of parents.

They include cyber cafes and entertainment outlets that expose teenagers to unhealthy practices. In cities like Kuala Lumpur, George Town and Johor Baru, where many families live in cramped flats, the shopping malls and streets have become the playgrounds of the teenagers.

The MCPF has set up over 3,700 crime prevention clubs nationwide to keep the young from straying. But that’s just a drop in the ocean.

Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar recently described the increase in crimes committed by youths as “worrying” and said it could be detrimental to the country if nothing was done to check it.

The fear is that our teenagers will start off with simple juvenile mischief and graduate to more serious crimes.
Then, there is another concern – many teenagers are staying up until the early hours, especially during the weekends.

While it is easy to blame these teenagers, parents cannot absolve themselves from blame.

As parents become more educated, they also tend to adopt a more liberal approach, preferring to talk to their children instead of being disciplinarians.

Unfortunately, sparing the rod has only served to spoil the child.

Teachers have increasingly refused to exercise discipline because parents often turn to the press over the slightest punishment meted out.

National Union of Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng was reported as saying she had been raising the alarm on the issue of students staying up late and being involved in crime for quite a while now.

She had even recommended that the Penal Code be taught in schools. For example, she said, a student should be told that, if he hits someone or steals or commits any crime, he could be charged and, if convicted, jailed.

But now there seems to be another new challenge for the men in blue.

What they had not been prepared for is bloggers – some with political motives, others out for fun – egging on the young in their blogs and on Facebook to challenge the authorities.

It’s a challenge for the police force, too, and certainly one the new IGP has to tackle.

The image of the police has been challenged and in some ways taken a beating. It needs to win back its respect and its critics have obviously taken advantage of that.

Nevertheless, respect has to be earned. Malaysia has changed and obviously there is now a need for a newer and more comprehensive method of dealing with teenage crime before it becomes a real threat to society.

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