DUBAI// Social workers aim to reach juvenile delinquents earlier by providing attention and care from the moment they arrive at a police station. At the moment they intervene in most cases after a court verdict.
The Community Development Authority in Dubai is working with police to deal with juvenile crime and delinquency before they evolve into far more serious cases.
“CDA is focusing on its role starting the minute the youngster gets to the police station, and not just after the verdict,” said Bushra Qayed, head of the women and children section of the authority.
Social workers also want to reach young people involved in incidents that are never referred to the courts. “There are some juvenile cases that they start from the police station and finish from there,” Ms Qayed said. “These boys, they go … we don’t know anything about them.”
Intervening in those cases could prevent future crime, Ms Qayed said. “I think if we did that, took the case from the police station at the first stage, this would be a big change. There would be somebody to take care of them.”
Dr Muhammad Tahir, head of psychiatry at Health Call Clinic in Dubai, said: “It’s very important to reach the problem earlier. Things don’t happen overnight.
“The problem has already started and it has been overlooked by the family, by the teacher and by the other grown-ups who are around the kids.”
By law, anyone under the age of 18 charged with a crime is treated as a juvenile. Dubai places male delinquents in a detention centre in Al Awir.
“It is like a hostel more than a prison,” said Ms Qayed. “They have lots of facilities.”
There are currently nine boys in the centre; about 30 pass through in a year. “The place is for Emiratis and non-Emiratis,” she said. “Each one has his own room.”
They are typically convicted of offences such as theft or drug use, though the centre has also held youths convicted of more serious crimes.
“Over this year it’s mostly drugs,” Ms Qayed said.
The two CDA social workers who work with juvenile delinquents study each case. If the boys are still at school, the CDA focuses on preparing them for their final exams. The boys also have an hour of religious education and an hour of sports activities a day. They may also receive individual and group therapy.
Most female juvenile delinquents in Dubai are remanded to the care of their parents. There are none in government custody now, but five or six pass through the system each year.
“Unfortunately they are in the ladies’ prison,” Ms Qayed said. “They don’t have their own facility.”
Juveniles may stay in the system for months or years, depending on the court’s judgment. “Most of the them, the families contact them – visit them or call,” Ms Qayed said. In other cases, families cut off contact.
“I faced two cases where the family doesn’t want them. If they don’t want them, don’t come to visit them, our rule is to talk with them and find common ground between the child and family to sort it out peacefully.”
Ms Qayed sees success stories when a former juvenile delinquent is working or caring for his family. Some stories, however, do not end happily.
“You feel sorry if you hear that some of them are in the men’s prison, or dead from drugs,” she said. “It depends on the person – what he wants for himself.”
Dr Tahir said parents and teachers must also play a role in helping delinquent youths. He suggested educating parents through lectures or workshops in how to recognise if a teenager is getting into trouble.
“The parents might notice some difference and say, this is my suspicion, it’s nothing,” he said. “Actually, the parents can be trained to look for warning signs in juveniles.”
Parents should also be on the lookout for mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“The mental illness can lead to a behaviour problem,” Dr Tahir said.