x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Too much free time linked to youth crime

Teenagers with time on their hands are turning to crime in the absence of useful activities and parental guidance, the head of a juvenile prison says.

ABU DHABI // Teenagers with time on their hands are turning to crime in the absence of useful activities and parental guidance, the head of a juvenile prison says. Lt Col Ibrahim al Marzouqi, who is in charge of Mafraq jail, said family disintegration and the absence of "religious deterrence" were often to blame for petty crime such as theft and driving without a licence.

He urged parents to ensure that their children were filling their free time wisely, stressing it was not solely the Government's responsibility to provide activities during school holidays. "Activities that target children during holidays have a very positive impact on their behaviour," said Lt Col Marzouqi. "Also, families' awareness of the importance of filling their children's free time is a significant factor."

He said the problem applied particularly to boys because they enjoyed more freedom to engage in "irresponsible" actions. Misuse of time, he added, included staying up late in front of TV, which he claimed could result in fatigue and antisocial behaviour. He said that teenagers during the summer typically engaged in a number of offences such as driving without a licence or using a car without its owner's permission.

He called on parents to assume more responsibility especially during the summer holidays by sharing their children's hobbies and advising them against associating with "bad friends". Police statistics show the number of juvenile repeat offenders has dropped by 2.52 per cent over the past two years. Lt Col al Marzouqi, whose prison receives 600 to 700 inmates a year, attributed the decrease to the recreational and rehabilitation programmes which have been made available to prisoners over the past few years. "Such programmes are closely followed up by a team that is qualified scientifically and professionally to deal with juvenile offenders," he said.

His comments about the role of the family were supported by a sociologist. Ibrahim Ubaid, general secretary of the Emirates Sociological Association, called on families, individuals, governmental and social institutions to all play their part in tackling youth crime. "The roles of all these different social forces come into play when it comes to a safe and secure use of free time among children. It's everyone's responsibility.

"The end of the academic year doesn't mean that the burden has been taken off shoulders. On the contrary, a bigger responsibility should be assumed, not only on the part of the pupils but on all the government institutions. "Any absence of this responsibility would have grave consequences for the future of our children and the government - by losing the contribution of a productive citizen. We should exert maximum efforts during this critical period of the year."

He said that families had a crucial role to play during the summer holidays. "A lot of families see summer vacation as a period for rest, for them and their children, leaving for their children the leeway to decide without guidance how to fill their free time. Offences such as drugs, hostility and theft are usually encouraged by friends. Parents should avoid spying on their children but they should offer guidance on how to develop healthy friendships and also get to know the friends of their children."

Mr Ubaid criticised the availability of leisure facilities for young people. "Public libraries, parks and other facilities are not well distributed over all areas of the country. What is available in big cities is not available in small ones. "Better distribution would yield better results," he said. hhassan@thenational.ae