Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
EVENTS of the past months have left me wondering why we have so many young boys entering criminal syndicates.
Boys aged between 12 and 19, who ought to be in school cultivating a better future for themselves, are joining gangs that are ruining their future. In most gangs, though, the oldest member is 16.
Some of you must have heard of the emerging culture of bunches of hooligans on the Copperbelt, who are often on police wanted list for breaking the law.
For an unknown reason, it has become common in Kitwe for teenagers to team up with the purpose of obtaining money by illicit means, beating and harassing people or simply aligning themselves with the most powerful gang in the hinterland.
Talking of Kitwe, the nerve centre of adolescent gangs, bunches of criminals who call themselves Sons of the Devil, Tokota, Mbwambwambwa and now the latest 90 Niggas, have instilled fear in residents in the affected communities.
A Copperbelt resident I talked to over this issue believes poor parenting is the major reason why young boys shun going to school, preferring to associate with mobs of outlaws.
It is strange that young boys could be found outdoors in the night or wee hours on adventures of terror.
Obviously, no parent wants their child to end up with a group of hooligans, but the question is, why are the little boys abusing drugs and alcohol at the rate at which they are doing?
And why are they hanging out with wrong friends without anyone at home knowing about it?
And perhaps the question that I would like to pose to everyone is: “Do you care to know who your children hang out with?”
These are some of the things which most of us ignore, only to end up in rude shock like some parents were a fortnight ago when their little boys were appearing in a Kitwe magistrate’s court for aggravated robbery.
I am sure some of you must have seen on television, mothers wailing uncontrollably when the boys who call themselves “90 Niggas” were making their way to the Zambia Correctional Service van after appearing in court.
Well, it’s a clip no parent wants to see because of the obvious feeling of imagining your own child in the shoes of the so-called 90 Niggas.
Although not all the kids who have been arrested are guilty, the tendency by young people to join gangs has become a serious problem on the Copperbelt and selected parts of the country.
In Lusaka, there is a notorious gang of stone-throwing youths called the 16 Boys who target motorists moving late in the night and wee hours.
Victims often say that some gang members are young boys and it’s difficult to understand how they account for their absence from home in the night.
Obviously your guess is as good as mine – some parents know that their little boys have become criminals but the thought of reporting them to police is unbearable.
‘‘Well, it’s good that the police in Kitwe had a meeting with residents of Bulangililo and Kwacha last Sunday in a quest to end juvenile delinquency and prevent children from joining gangs of hoodlums.
What came out in the meeting is that some of the boys are usually high on drugs and sometimes under the influence of alcohol when they embark on adventures of terror.
Police largely blame parents for what’s happening because they allow children to be outdoors as late as 23:00 hours without taking any disciplinary action. Some children actually sleep out and return home the following morning.
These are school-going children and others are school drop-outs who, according to police sources, abuse Benyline cough syrup, dagga and other illicit drugs.
In certain instances, they go back home with parcels of food and some parents gladly receive them without asking the unemployed adolescents where the money is coming from.
Brandishing machetes, stones and whatever weapon they could lay their hands on, the gangsters collect money from bus and taxi drivers in the Bulangililo and Kwacha areas.
It has been established that the little racketeers learn the tricks of hooliganism from the movies that they watch during video shows in their communities.
The gangsters usually fight with rival gangs over the control of certain income streams and operational areas.
In isolated incidences, they have insulted or attacked and robbed members of the public who cross their paths.
Police say most parents are aware that their children abuse alcohol, dagga and other drugs, but they do nothing to seek help from Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) and Zambia Police Service.
The communities where the boys have established reigns of terror are faulted for not alerting police about emerging gangs early enough. Police say they are doing their best to stop the dangerous boys but their efforts are being frustrated by parents and members of the public who ought to be their partners in combatting crime.
For example, when the boys are arrested for assault, aggravated robbery or conduct likely to cause a breach peace, some parents, mothers especially, opt to set camp at police stations to protest against the arrest of their ‘innocent’ children and their actions include weeping loudly.
When the boys hear their parents crying for them, they tend to think that police are hell-bent on persecuting them. Obviously, you don’t expect the boys to be remorseful for their deeds or let alone mend their ways.
Police also think that the open wailing by parents and relatives at the court premises when the suspected outlaws are appearing in court sends wrong signals to the boys.
The police have now been prompted to forbid parents from protesting the arrest of their children at police stations and court premises. Those who do are arrested and charged with (child) negligence.
The other setback is that the gangs use illicit methods to raise money and bail out their members when they are arrested.
This they do by giving bribes to complainants who may opt to withdraw cases or grow cold feet to testify in a court of law.
This is the reason why some boys have become habitual offenders who are not scared of being arrested by police.
Much as we expect police to stop this juvenile delinquency, they need the support of parents and the affected communities.
The police or DEC can’t stop these boys if we don’t do what good parents and citizens ought to do under the circumstances.
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA