PETALING JAYA: An anti-crime activist has expressed alarm at the growing trend of youths and schoolchildren under 18 years being involved in misdemeanours such as shoplifting and unlawful assembly, and even serious crimes such as murder, rioting and extortion.

While a breakdown of the crimes are unavailable, latest figures from the Statistics Department showed minors were involved in 5,342 criminal cases in 2020 – a 10.5% increase from 4,833 in 2019. The number of first-time offenders in 2020 also increased by 15.7% to 4,916 cases compared with 4,248 the year before.

However, repeat offences involving the group decreased by 27.2% to 426 cases compared with 585 over the same period.

Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said: “It is shocking that these children are involved in murder, rioting, extortion and even gangsterism at such a young age, apart from shoplifting, which is a common crime (among the group).”

He said criminal cases involving youngsters could have risen in 2021 as well, considering Covid-19 was ravaging the country and many parents lost their jobs and had to look for work while others had to take second jobs just to survive.

“That caused many parents not to be around to guide and supervise their children. Many bad hats constantly prowl the streets looking to influence those who have no proper role models.”

Lee also said family upbringing, including teaching discipline, is critical to prevent children from getting involved in criminal activities.

He added that consumerism may also affect the behaviour of young people because if they see their friends owning the latest electronic gadgets, they may also want them.

“If their parents cannot afford to purchase the gadgets, they may decide to steal the items or engage in other illegal activities to get them.”

He said another factor is the current environment, that encourages youngsters to be digitally savvy, making owning the latest devices a priority to them and such mindset may prompt some to believe that getting involved in criminal activities would be an easy way to get what they want.

Psychologist Dr Subash Kumar said: “Youngsters who are involved in criminal activity need help. Throwing them into a juvenile detention centre is not the answer. It is just like sweeping the issue under the carpet.

“It would be better to get to the bottom of it and identify the underlying reasons they got involved in crime. Otherwise, the problem will only worsen.”

He agreed with Lee’s comments on family support and said the lack of a proper home environment and supervision, as well as the people they associate with, could contribute to involvement in crime.

Subash said one reason could be that both parents are forced to work to provide for the family, leaving no one at home to guide them.

“The most important thing is to identify the kind of illegal activity they have gotten involved in.

“For example, if they are caught shoplifting food items, then we should question why they did it. Is it because they lacked food at home? We have to be mindful that the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have badly hit the finances of some households.

“They could also be drawn into criminal activities even with both parents being home. Some criminal acts could be impulsive. It becomes worrisome if they repeat such acts.”

Subash added that some of them could be suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and if not treated, it could also lead to involvement in criminal activities.

He said peer pressure may also play a part, as they could get influenced by those around them to join in their activities.
“If it is with the wrong crowd, then those activities could involve criminal elements.”