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Young Guns: Children in Organised Armed Violence

NCJ Number
SA Crime Quarterly Issue: 14 Dated: December 2005 Pages: 11-14
Cheryl Frank
Date Published
December 2005
4 pages
This article reports on a 10-country study of children's involvement in organized armed violence (COAV), with attention to this issue in South Africa, which focuses on gangs in the Cape Town area.
The 10 countries included in the study are Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras, Jamaica, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. The first part of the study describes the nature, structure, and history of the identified armed groups. In 8 of the 10 countries, the armed groups did not have criminal origins, although all were involved in criminal activities at the time of the research. The study argues that external factors caused the groups to develop violent and criminal behaviors. All of the groups were involved in armed violence. The children in these armed groups were often from single-parent families, with many experiencing domestic violence and overcrowded living conditions. The average age of group members was 13.5 years old. The children had access to firearms at an early age. In most of the countries studied, governments have used repressive tactics to deal with the children in these groups. Regarding gangs in Cape Town, South Africa, information is limited regarding the nature, extent, and effects of armed youth gangs. Currently, there is little evidence to support the popular view that organized armed gangs exist and are a serious problem, even though the government's gang policy assumes this to be true. The COAV project in Cape Town is focusing on the prevention of children's involvement in gangs and a reduction of the impact of such groups on children. This preventive approach is a new strategy that includes the development of programs that address the social and environmental conditions that foster gang involvement. 13 notes