OPINION: Are Kenya’s educated youth the criminals?

By Eshuchi Richard

The dynamic nature of youth crime patterns in Kenya is one that intersects security and education. Collectively, the youth including young adults, and middle-aged adults make up the majority of the principal perpetrators of crime in our country.

This criminality has been exacerbated by the containment measures, with close to 20 million at home following the closure of all educational institutions. If media stories are anything to go by, then these out-of-school youth, who represent almost half of Kenya’s population, are responsible for the upsurge in crime, an implication that the educated are also perpetrators of crime.

A tough proposition for any policymaker, educator or a parent to quickly accept but one evidenced by the extensive reports of child and teenage conflict with the law, a majority of whom are thieves and the masterminds as well as executors of the most devious and serious of criminal plots.

Violence and crime among the youth in Kenya begin in primary schools where same-class or older pupils not only forcibly steal material belongings, but also intellectual property in the form of homework completed by other pupils.

With prevalence yet to be officially and decisively established, juvenile victims continue to be threatened with violence when the problem is reported.

Worse still, fragile children aged between six and twelve years old attend school apprehensive of physical confrontation on the playgrounds, in the toilets, in class, in dormitories [for boarders] or while on the way home [for day schoolers].

The trend manifests itself in secondary schools, too, where teen-on-teen harassment and physical assault, which is often trivialized as bullying. This phenomenon has recurrently received national attention and posed by child psychologists as a root cause of the unexpected antisocial and defiant attitude in impressionable and oft-victimized 14–17 year-olds. This tendency normally progresses to more serious acts of crime.

In 2001, the Task Force on Student Discipline and Unrest in Secondary Schools established that students had turned to deadly violence, a distinct departure from the norm, following fatal incidences in which students brutally targeted their peers. Ironically, prefects, who in most cases are the top academic performers, were among those identified as perpetrators.

This, combined with a ritual of arson witnessed annually in public secondary schools, was indicative of an educated youth population that plans and executes elaborate schemes, sometimes out of vengeance, to torture, kill, rape and destroy property.

The establishment of Approved Schools in Othaya, Kabete, Dagoretti, Kirigiti, Likoni, Kericho, Wamumu and Kisumu congruently designates Central, Nairobi, Coast, South Rift, Eastern and Nyanza regions to have the highest prevalence of juvenile delinquents.

Similarly, youth crime extends to institutions of higher learning where university and college students embellish hard knock habits. Inclusive of university riots characterized by hooliganism and vandalism, critical assessment of criminal patterns identifies theft, possession of illegal drugs, aggravated assault, sexual harassment including stalking, rape, violent relationships, and even prostitution as the most prevalent criminal activities in universities and colleges.

An unpublished report by the Commission of University Education indicated that these violent crimes are committed by the students themselves and in organized groups, with institutions used for purposes of planning criminal activities as well as unsuspicious hideouts for the student criminals and gangs.

All aspects considered, crimes of varying severity can clearly be traced to this population of learning and educated youth. With the securitization and safety of education institutions being a contemporary issue in public policy in Kenya, the Governance, Justice, Law and Order implementors together with education stakeholders need to adopt strategies that will tighten school security infrastructure alongside with policies that promote access to criminal justice in schools.

Formalizing the relationship by creating a direct link between victims and investigative, prosecutorial, judicial and rehabilitative structures would go a long way in empowering the youth to break the silence on the commission or omission of crime and to firsthand depend on the professional service of relevant and legally mandated agencies to handle criminal issues.

The writer is Master of Research and Public Policy student at the University of Nairobi

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