x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Youth knife crime is a reversible trend

The trend toward more knife crimes among young people is serious, and authorities need to pay attention to ways to reduce this danger.

In October 2010, two men were charged with attacking a student using swords and knives in a battle over neighbourhood disagreements. Last March, three gang members were sentenced to three months in prison after damaging another man's car with swords. They are headline-grabbing incidents for sure, but unfortunately, not isolated ones.

As Dubai Juvenile Court Judge Omar Karmastagy observed last year, his jurisdiction has seen a "remarkable" increase in knife crimes, particularly involving youths aged 14 to 17. In 2009 there were 27 cases of teenage knife violence; that jumped to 81 in 2010. "I went myself to the market and saw how anyone at any age can buy such a weapon," the judge said, adding that urgent changes in the law were needed to halt this trend. A year on, the same concerns remain.

The spread of knife crime among youth in Dubai is a troubling development and, as we reported yesterday, police are preparing to launch a campaign in the emirate's public schools. Although knifing incidents fell to 60 in 2011, Dubai's police are right to highlight the issue.

Yet despite education efforts, there remains too little awareness of how dangerous easy access to knives can be for teenagers. Last year, a third of all crimes involving knives were carried out by people under the age of 18. Clearly, more intervention is urgently needed.

Convincing young boys of the disastrous consequences of violence takes more than harsh words. If jail terms are not enough of a deterrent then gang patrols and weapons confiscation programmes must pick up the slack. Parents, as ever, must share the burden of educating their children and policing their habits and social networks.

In the longer term, wider-ranging preventive measures must be introduced by authorities across the Emirates. One option that has proven successful elsewhere is creating youth centres with activities and sports that keep children off the streets. A major complaint among youngsters in this country is the lack of things to do in their free time, especially during the summer months.

The solution to knife crime won't come overnight, but the situation is dire. After years of rising violence, it's time for teenage knife crimes to head in the other direction.