• Sophie Haaland Matláry

Youth crime in Norway

An eye for an eye…Will not remove our society’s problem with youth crime. The original article was published in Dagens Næringsliv on the 08th of May 2019.

One Saturday night last December, I met a young boy at Majorstuen metro station in Oslo, who asked if I did not have a cigarette to give him.

The kid on the subway had bloodshot eyes and a black eye, probably from a fight. The conversation felt uncomfortable at first, as my mind quickly reminded me of the countless knife attacks that have happened in Oslo the last year. Maybe he also carried a knife? The boy told me he had just been involved in a fight and was nervous because the police had just arrived to the platform where we were standing. The atmosphere got tense, and I quickly changed the topic. ‘Are you from Oslo?’, ‘yes’, the boy replied, before he added that ‘mom and dad are from Egypt’. I have lived in Cairo for over a year, and so I asked him about the local football teams. ‘What do you think of Zamalek, or Al Ahly, who is your favorite?’

‘Do you know those teams?!’ the boy said, and his bloodshot eyes glowed even stronger.

And that’s how we broke the tense atmosphere – where he was a juvenile doing crime, and I am working for the police.

Former minister of immigration, Sylvi Listhaug, recently stated that the only solution to youth crime is through much stricter penalties in all the neighborhoods where youth crimes are committed most often. Quadrupling the sentences for young people that are in gangs is also a necessity – she stated.

Most of us have heard about the repeated knife stabbings, where children from the age of 12 are carrying with knifes in the biggest cities of Norway.

My good friend and professor at King's College London (War Studies), Kieran Mitton, has for a long time been researching the reasons behind why kids and young adults join gangs and participate in gang related crime. He has done comparative fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Sao Paolo and lastly in London, where he collaborated with the London Metropolitan Police in his research on lasting solutions to the "knife crime" in the city. "Knife crime" is very common in London, and knife crime killings occur on a daily basis in East London.

The situation has gotten out of control in the U.K. Many kids and young people take part in groups on Instagram and give "ratings" based on various videos of attacks and gang fights. If your video is the video that gets the most likes, you are also the best at being violent, or at times being a killer, simply put.

Mitton has concluded the following: It does not help to meet the youth with an ‘eye for an eye’ kind of understanding- on the contrary, we must help them transfer the sense of mastery that they get from gang communities over to something else. This can be through sports, music or art.

If we put them in prison, by quadrupling their penalties, as Listhaug suggests, we run the risk of mass-producing professional criminals, who spend their sensitive youth years behind bars. It is clear to see that older criminals around them will influence young people who face long prison sentences.

In my opinion, we should therefore quadruple the payroll offered to teachers - who are at the forefront in dealing with students who are at risk of becoming criminals. Furthermore, there is a need for support to parents who are unable to take care of their children, perhaps there are many single moms and dads that have lost control over their children?

The police should be present and foster a safe environment for the young, where confidence can grow between the Norwegian police and children with minority backgrounds. Most statistics indicate that young people with minority backgrounds do not trust the police. Therefore, competent police officers and women who understand young people with backgrounds from different cultures and religions are extremely valuable in solving the issue.

I believe that harder punishment and prison time is an unlikely way to stop violence - and instead we must build young people's confidence in themselves, and in the outside world. Aggressiveness and fear often go hand in hand.

Let us instead quadruple the money we invest in activities such as music, sports and art, in the different districts that are most at risk and most vulnerable. In such a way, young people can be influenced towards healthier environments, fostering a new sense of mastery through positive activities.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that youth criminals in Norway are the ‘kids of our communities’, and it is Oslo's responsibility to help them return to a healthy and normal life. If we have an increasing problem with gang environments, it may be a symptom that several things do not work anymore in certain neighborhoods, and that this needs to be looked into more.

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