Children as young as 8 linked to gangs, says minister
There are up to 250 active gang members and some are as young as 8 years old, the national security minister said yesterday.
The news came as Renée Ming told MPs that the police estimated that at least nine gangs were in operation across the island and hundreds of core members were aided by their families and an outer layer of associates.
Ms Ming told MPs: “It’s a stark reality, but there are children in primary school, who, today, owing to their family, community and economic circumstances, are already being indoctrinated into this antisocial mindset.
“Children are actively recruited from as early as 8 years old.
“Yes, I said children and there are girls being recruited as well. We have children showing allegiances to gangs and committing violent acts while in school.”
Ms Ming said the “crisis” needed a balanced approach, including outreach and preventive measures.
She insisted cuts to the police budget and a decrease in the number of officers had not affected the situation, despite an upsurge in gang-related killings during the past year.
Ms Ming said that enforcement was the “option of last resort” as she praised government measures to combat the problem, including the work of the Gang Violence Reduction Team.
She added: “The notion that we can arrest our way out of gang violence is outdated and a misguided mindset of a bygone era.
“Enforcement is the option of last resort. It’s when all else has failed and the individual is an active gang member, resolute in their antisocial behaviour and criminal activity, that the full weight of enforcement efforts should be brought to bear.
“We must have a balanced approach that doesn’t alienate, stigmatise or victimise the very communities that need our help.
“Enforcement and preventive/proactive measures are important and both need to work in tandem to help our youth and their families.”
Ms Ming appealed to the public to get involved in the fight against gangs.
She said: “The police cannot do this alone and need the support of the Honourable Members of this House and the community.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the issue believing it is not our individual problem, we are in a crisis and everyone has a role to play.”
Ms Ming said that, although five people had died as a result of gang violence last year, the figure was a reduction on the 16 killed between 2009 and 2011.
Michael Dunkley, the shadow national security minister, quizzed Ms Ming on the effect of police budget cuts.
Ms Ming said: I cannot say that the reduced budget or any reduction in persons has impacted.“
She added: “This government neither supports nor condones gangs or criminal organisations.
“We have laws that are in place that provide penalties including incarceration for criminal offences.
“This government has a policy of providing programmes to outreach young people to minimise the likelihood of them joining gangs or being involved in criminal activity.”