Sunday, 13 July 2008

Criminal children call for honesty

In a bid to tackle the growing incidence of violent crime committed by youths, the government is being again pressed into forming and reviewing initiatives concerning the justice system and parenting. However, frontline activists think that it is a radical reform of the social welfare system that is required.

Several government initiatives will reportedly be released in the week of July 14 2008. The focus will be on the justice system and parenting, according to interviews with home minister of state Tony McNulty during the week of July 7.

Proposals for one of these initiatives, a review of school behaviour policies, will include: “pressure on parents” of unruly children to tackle the bad behaviour; the setting up of direct links to teachers to provide parents with support; methods to increase the involvement of parents in their children’s schooling and behaviour management; and how to address the problem of parents who defend bad child behaviour and oppose school punishments such as detention, according to The Guardian.(1)

A dangerous gap
However, there appears to be a gap between the government’s focus and that being called for by leaders in the work of saving and rehabilitating abused and violent children. While the government is focusing on the justice system and parenting, what child protection leaders are calling for is a reform of the social welfare system, which they say is the ultimate cause of the problems.

“Zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children”,(2) according to Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of groundbreaking child welfare organisation Kids Company. But her reference to violence here is not directly in reference to abusive parents. The violence she is referring to is violence by omission: the negligence of a social welfare system that is failing because it is not suitable to its allotted task.

The system is being forced to be something it is not. “[Social welfare staff] are being forced to mimic business values”, says Ms Batmanghelidjh in her book Shattered Lives (p 23).

The unsuitability of the business approach to social welfare is evidenced in its failure. Less than half of the children that need protection are receiving it – the system can cater to just 30,700 out of 553,000, according to Ms Batmanghelidjh.(3)

But the real danger of this “depleted” and failing system according to Ms Batmanghelidjh is that by being forced to appear as something it is not, it has become dishonest: “The government has still not come up with a way of holding to account local authorities who airbrush out their failures – who checks how many invisible children are left outside the system?”, she says.(4)

Escalation expected
This gap between government actions on child crime and the needs of the system as set out by frontline activists means that the problem remains unaddressed. We can therefore expect the problems to escalate because the failure of the system and the escalation of the problem appear to be mutually exclusive.

“Children see the discrepancy between our pretensions and the reality. The abandoned child waits to deliver his revenge for the danger we expose him to. Threats from children bear a message: zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children.”5
An editorial on this story can be found in the Editorials section
1 The Guardian, July 11, 2008
2, 3, 4, 5: All quotes are taken from “Zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children”, Camila Batmanghelidjh, The Times, June 2, 2008.


  1. I think the best way to kick out child crime is by the application an appropriate smack whenever the child comes asking for, rather than providing perks in the hope of a behavioural change. Someone convey this to the lawmakers...

  2. Hi Vivek,

    Thanks for your comment, and for the opportunity to reply to this view (which I think many people hold).

    As I had hoped this blog would have conveyed -I entirely disagree with this view.

    Criminal children have often been violently mistreated and this is the cause of their own criminal behaviour. They are more than familiar with violent behaviour, and not just the little smack every now and again that you suggest. Try: being locked in a room for days together; not being taught to read or write; beaten up and burned with cigarettes; verbally and/or sexually abused; looking after parents with serious drug and alcohol problems.
    What I was trying to do in this blog was support the view of leaders in this field (whose work actually works - such as Kids Company in London, founded and led by Camila Batmanghelidjh). Their view is that violence from children is a sign of violence that has already been committed TO children. You only maintain the cycle if you then respond YET AGAIN with more violence. Children are reflecting and imitating what they have already experienced.
    But even at a less serious level, I do not agree with smacking children. A parent should have the inner power to control their child simply through their voice and demeanour and through intelligent, powerful reasoning. If they do not have this power, they can use alternative methods that do not involve physical violence - which is brutal and stupid and teaches nothing. If the parent has no inner ability to be a good parent it is not the child's fault and the child should not have to suffer for it. If a parent needs help in parenting, they should recognise that and get help and training, not punish the child. Violent punishment just creates more problems - for the family and for society at large.
    More often, though, rather than weakness the problem is that the parents have made themselves ineffective through not understanding the elements that make up the proper education of a human nature.
    For example: learning that it is essential to be quiet sometimes and in certain situations. Many parents these days seem to think that it is OK for children to run and scream and shout all the time, when it just isn't. They mistakenly believe that to correct the child would be to curtail its freedom. It is the question about the difference between liberty and licence.