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Ramon Espinosa/AP

Kids Are Joining Gangs at Younger Ages

March 20, 2009 04:15 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
A British study of gangs reveals that many are recruiting new members at younger and younger ages.

Monitoring England’s Gangs

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An official report released by England’s Department for Children, Schools and Families has stated that kids are joining gangs at a progressively younger ages, sometimes even at 7 or 8 years old, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Gang members are committing sexual assault or murder to “earn their spurs” and work their way up the ranks. Younger children sometimes carry weapons or drugs for their “elders” in the gang.

Girls are also being brought into the groups, and often made to “sexually service older male gang members,” the Telegraph said.

New guidelines about gangs aim to help adults recognize kids who have entered into gang networks, or who are at risk of doing so, according to the BBC.

In recent years, high-profile gang-related killings have drawn attention to the prominence of the “gang culture” in the U.K.
Parents can watch their children for signs of gang involvement. A few possible cues are changes in appearance; the use of a new nickname, slang words or hand signals, and unexplained injuries and cash.
 
Children’s minister Beverly Hughes called for parents to be held responsible if they allow their kids to join a gang, according to the BBC.

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Related Topic: Pre-teens in U.S. gangs

In the United States, gangs are seeing younger members, too. According to the Orange County Register in California, gang membership for kids under 14 has grown continually since 2002.

While these youngsters do not compose the largest part of Orange County’s gangs, they still pose a significant concern. “Young gang members have always been a problem,” Assistant District Attorney Bruce Moore told the Register. “A 14-year-old with a gun is the most dangerous creature because they don’t have the conscience to have judgment.”
The grand jury report calls for more money to be spent on gang prevention activities. The paper reported that “dealing with chronic criminals” costs taxpayers $65,000 at age 12 and increases to $5.7 million over a lifetime. Money would be well spent on prevention, the report said.

Gang prevention efforts aren’t always successful, however. In Salinas, Calif., counselors for the Sunrise House recently tried to host a workshop for parents called, “Signs of Gang Involvement,” but no one came, according to KSBW-TV.
   
“The community will get upset when there’s a rash of shootings and violence but when we’re trying to promote prevention and what to look for, places to go and resources, the community’s really not stepping up,” Sunrise House counselor Gilbert Olivares stated.

In an article by the Albany Herald, Vernon Jones, who has helped with a successful anti-gang strategy in metro Atlanta, said, “Most people are in denial about gangs until something happens to their son or their daughter.” Jones continued, “This is serious, folks, this is serious. They’re killing each other, killing the public at large and killing our way of life.”

Analysis: Why kids join gangs

A number of factors can influence whether a kid joins a gang, according to the Violence Prevention Institute. Fear, for example, can be a large contributor driving children to gang life. If they are afraid of the place they live, or they are seeking protection from a rival gang, kids may turn to a gang for protection. Having a close friend or family member in a gang can also be trigger.

Active, involved parenting is one way to keep kids out of gangs, the Institute explains. Finding a safe place to live, working with local authorities to minimize crime in an area and even forming community groups to monitor kids and their free time can be beneficial as well.
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