Portugal: 8.5 % rise in juvenile crime

The latest crime figures for the year 2,000, which have just been released by the Portuguese Interior and Justice Ministries, show an alarming rise in crime in general and a dramatic increase in attacks by gangs of juveniles. Street muggings were up 15.4% on the previous year, with 15,263 attacks in a population of 10 million. While more serious crimes showed rates of decrease (murder by 17.4%, kidnappings down by 25.2% and grievous bodily harm down 10%), the report highlighted a new and threatening trend, one which is beginning to make headlines almost weekly – that of juvenile delinquency. “The violent character of some acts inserted in the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency in groups” is beginning to alarm society, the report states. It is beginning to not be infrequent to read reports of attacks by gangs of young boys from shanty towns on hypermarkets, with security guards being beaten unconscious by groups of 30 or 40 youths armed with knives and baseball bats, who then proceed to terrorise the entire shopping centre, vandalising, stealing, beating and sexually abusing women. Last year, there was an attack on a train by a gang of boys of African origin. They streamed through the train attacking and robbing the passengers, chanting “We will rule here one day”. Last week, a bus was surrounded and had its windows smashed in a suburb on the outskirts of Lisbon again by a group of youths, who proceeded to rob and beat its terrified occupants. This week, a youth shot three policemen who were intercepting the robbery of a car. Eight youths were detained after the incident but were set free because they were too young to arrest. This phenomenon is beset with problems from beginning to end. Firstly, there is a strong element of drug abuse behind the crimes. There are 100,000 hard drugs users in Portugal, 1% of the population. Drugs have taken to the shanty towns around Lisbon where many children are not socialised for today’s western European style classrooms. Therefore the break with the system comes at an early age, when alternative families and societies are formed, an “us and them” attitude is adopted, and society in general is regarded as a legitimate target. “Society gave me nothing so I can take what I want” is the face behind the mask. Growing up with a legacy of truancy from school makes the matter worse as these youths are not only unemployed, but unemployable. They cannot work and if they have an expensive drugs habit, the only alternative is robbery. The victim is society at large. The perpetrators of this sort of crime are mostly the second or third generation of immigrant families, mainly of African origin. The first generation came to work and improve their standard of living, not to integrate. The problem is when subsequent generations feel they are not Europeans, although they are born in Europe. Portuguese society in general is not racist but actions such as these by groups which are composed of youths mainly from one ethnic group give rise to tensions and racism can grow. Press reports that there are shanty towns where the residents boast “The police cannot enter here and leave alive” help to inflame the situation. The Portuguese government is trying to address the situation by ordering an in-depth study by a group of sociologists, who will make recommendations. One of these is expected to be that there should be community representatives at a local level who interact with the police. These local representatives know the youths involved and can try to find specific programmes for them to develop skills and apply for an activity which gives some remuneration, the first steps towards full integration in society.


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