Independent Projects Trust

      Children and Crime (Newspaper Article)

"… and a boy brought a gun to school."

Is it that simple, that uncomplicated, that much of an everyday event that a statement of this sort from a grade five learner at a KwaZulu-Natal school can make it sound like part of a nursery rhyme?…"and the dish an away with the spoon"? Sadly, the answer is possibly both 'yes' and 'no'.

Yes, because crime happens everywhere in our society, even at schools. Also, crime is happening all over the lives of our young citizens of KwaZulu-Natal. If you prefer not to believe this, if you'd rather think that crime is an adult issue, then humour us for a few minutes while we ask our young citizens to tell us a little about their experiences of crime.

Bongi[1], who is eight years old already knows about kidnapping. She tells us about the day she saw someone she knows being kidnapped. "The girl didn't come home for a week… the police did not find the girl." For Debbie (14 years old), crime was even closer to home. She explains "On New Year's eve my sister was kidnapped and raped. They said they were not finished with my family, they said they were still going to get me."

Ted (12 years old) and friends have their own story to tell. Actually, Ted has a few stories to tell. Lets hear him out then while he chats to us about some of his experiences of crime. "Thami was a best friend to my sister… we were going to the shop with my mother… They shot Thami on the back of the neck, we saw his blood… he didn't make it, he died. They wanted his bracelet - that's what they shot him for. It was so sad. RIP Thami". Ted has more. His neighbour is the perpetrator now. "…it is a man, beating his wife and his child, a girl. Now his wife has got eye problems and he also broke his wife's leg".

Alice (aged 9) also has a 'close to home' story to share. She tells of "a little boy" whom she saw "shoot two police (officers). And some people shoot that little boy with 12 bullets… on his face. He was our next door neighbour….. I felt sorry for him because he didn't die nicely."

Mark (who is 11 years old) is also eager to tell us his story. It's a story about the day that he and his mother were on the way home from town (where school is). They were in a taxi when a young male passenger began to harass a young female passenger. But enough from us, over to Mark now for the rest of the story; "… the taxi driver said 'leave the girl alone… Then the boy went near the taxi driver and took out his gun and shot the driver in the head. Then the boy ran away."

Just an average day in the lives of our young people? Seems like it listening to this group of children eager to share their stories with us. For them crime is real, crime is happening around them, at home, at school, on the way home. And at what price?

Well this is where we get to the 'no' part of the answer to our original question; is it that uncomplicated? The impact of being part of a crime, or even just witnessing it is a complex issue. What we are starting to understand is that there is an impact. Once again. lets see what our young people say, this time, lets look at what learners aged between 13 and 19 have to teach us.

First of all, about 13% of high school learners (in the group we worked with) had experienced and survived gunshot assaults. This is 13% too many! They tell us that many of them feel unsafe safe at school these days, with only 61% feeling safe (61%). Those that feel unsafe tell us that they have started taking guns to school or have simply stayed at home rather than go to school on days when they feel particularly unsafe. Their stories suggest that their having seen a criminal incident makes them more susceptible to actually carrying out a similar crime, with a third of those who have witnessed a stabbing incident having then committed the crime themselves.

Colin AJ Collett van Rooyen & Mel Gray

Editorial content prepared on request by a KZN Newspaper 2000