Inter-American states struggle with one common issue regarding youth: gangs. The numbers prove so; according to a 2015 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, there are over one million juvenile gang members in the U.S alone. In Canada, there are over 7,000 youths in 434 gangs where almost half of those members are under the age of 18, as reported by the Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs in Canada. In the case of El Salvador, where gangs are considered one of the main problems facing the country according to its citizens, at least 60,000 youths are involved in gang activities. Moreover, the top 6 nations with the world’s highest organized crime problems – El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Colombia – are in South and Central America. As such, it is extremely important to protect youth from joining these circles and eliminate any sort of factor that is continuously contributing to youth participation in these gangs.
Why do youths join gangs?
A recent Advancement Project report identified six major risk factors that contribute to gang involvement in urban environments:
- Lack of jobs for youth
- Poverty compounded by social isolation
- Domestic violence taking place in one’s home
- Negative peer networks
- Lack of parental supervision (often due to them coping with poverty)
Additionally, many of the shootings – largely contributed by gangs and their youth members – take place in low-income neighborhoods, apartment towers that rent to drug addicted tenants or community housing projects with single moms and youth.
How to improve the situation?
Eliminating or reducing the above factors have proven in multiple international scenarios to successfully shrink the number of youth becoming involved in gang activities or falling prey to their schemes. Some ways to do so are listed below:
- Municipalities need to increase the budget they put forth into services to support a full range of services (such as those regarding housing, security, education, after-school activities, and postsecondary education advisories and counselling for youths) that would help families that are connected with or are living in areas with gangs.
- Social services need to be streamlined to create a “one-stop shop” for information regarding education, personal security employment, current opportunities etc. that can be available to all youths who want solutions to their problems that lead to gang involvement.
- Community leaders have to step up youth activities, everything from soccer and basketball games to get-togethers, lectures and social trips, in concerted efforts to prevent impressionable teenagers from falling into bad company.
- Increased awareness of services that are available to help people in need
- Make more awareness among youths and their families about what services are available to them currently and how they can use them to their advantage
- New and improved partnerships between community and external organizations to improve education
- Positively engage young people, families, schools and communities to services by increasing funding to projects available to youths (such as extracurricular activities, free tutoring and future career counselling, and discussion or common interest such as basketball, social justice advocacy, or writing circles) and to their families (such as addressing major security and unemployment issues through helping them integrate into the workforce) and improving schools (by providing more supplies, professional and teachers empathetic to their circumstances, and career and education counsellors who can provide a map that youths can take to help them complete high school and potentially post-secondary education).
- Enhance cross agency collaboration and service coordination
- Preventing individuals from joining gangs by addressing case-specific risk factors specifically cited by youths living in each community throughout the country with high gang involvement.
- Prosecuting and convicting older gang members, especially those proven to be responsible for recruiting new members.
Written by: Shifa Sarker
- Crime Prevention Ottawa. Ottawa Gang Strategy: Seeking Solutions to Street-Level Violence. 2016.