x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Raise awareness of serious knife crime

Another fatal knife attack raises serious questions about youth-related crime and public safety. One answer would be strengthening the law on knife crime.

In March 2010, Ali Mohammed Hassan, a 13-year-old Emirati boy, was stabbed 12 times by a gang of armed youths, and left to die after a street brawl in the Rashidiya area of Dubai. The crime shocked the nation - but two years on, such attacks are becoming more frequent.

As The National reported yesterday, police now believe that gang violence in Dubai has become increasingly more bloody in the continuing absence of a law barring the carrying of knives and swords.

Knife attacks involving young people in Dubai prompted police in February to launch an awareness campaign targeting 20 of the emirate's public schools for boys at intermediate and secondary levels. But despite the concern, knife crime shows no signs of abating, with the latest attack leaving an 18-year-old dead and two others injured after two gangs clashed with knives and swords last week. There have been other high-profile cases recently as well.

"The fights have not increased but their nature has changed," said Dr Mohammed Murad, general secretary of the Juvenile Care Society in Dubai. "They have become more serious and bloody due to the heavy use of knives and swords."

Authorities realise an urgent solution is needed. Indeed, for over a year, the Ministry of Justice has been considering legislation to criminalise the possession in public of knives. However, it is vital that authorities realise that more than just a law is needed.

For a start, it is practically impossible to fully enforce a knife ban; the sale of kitchen knives, for example, cannot be outlawed. However, stricter penalties for being caught carrying a knife, and for committing a crime involving a deadly weapon, could certainly act as deterrents.

It is a simple fact of life that some young people with free time on their hands are at risk of being dragged into crime. Educating children and teenagers on the perils of knife violence, and gang culture in general, should be a national priority.

As columnist Abdulla Ahmed Balalaa writes, many urban areas lack the community centres that promote more healthy behaviour and activities. This is a complicated issue, involving community and family support, as well as law enforcement.

Knife and gang-related crime in the UAE is still relatively rare. Now is the time for carefully tailored strategies to disarm the threat.