What causes young people to turn to crime? Separating fact from fable when answering that question has vexed everyone from exasperated parents to the police who have to deal with wayward youths and the courts that seek to rehabilitate them.
The temptation is to lapse into oversimplified stereotypes: the offenders must be from broken homes with divorced or absent parents, or they must be from poor and uneducated families from a social underclass.
But as The National reported yesterday, the reality experienced in the UAE challenges those assumptions and demonstrates the opposite.
Research and field work by the Community Development Authority in Dubai showed instead that seven out of 10 youths who got into trouble with the law were from classic stable homes with both parents present and everyone living under one roof.
Rather than divorce being the main driver ofyouth offending, said Bushra Qaed, head of the authority’s women, youth and children department, parental indifference and peer pressure were the culprits.
This rings true. Parents who are not present emotionally in raising their children may even have a worse impact on their well-being than those who are physically absent.
Peer pressure too makes sense as an important indicator. Youth is a time when each of us tries to make sense of the world, which involves breaking away from the examples set by our families and trying out new approaches. What our peers do, and the social urge to fit in, are powerful forces for conformity.
All this explains why the primary goal of dealing with youth offenders in the UAE, along with almost every other civilised nation, is rehabilitation.
In juvenile detention centres where the worst young offenders end up, the guiding principles are discipline, respect and order. Good behaviour is rewarded and boundaries are clear.
Equally important is maintaining that contact after the young offender regains freedom – and goes back into a situation likely to involve opaque boundaries and minimal supervision.
The UAE is famous for the effort it devotes to the development of its young people. That applies as much to their social development as it does to their educational qualifications.