Every fifteenth crime in Ukraine is committed by a minor. In total for 2012, children and teens committed more than 14 thousand crimes, presidential envoy on children's rights Yuri Pavlenko announces the statistics. 

In an interview with Oleksiy Lazarenko, head of the criminal police department for children, ForUm has learned why some children and teens violate the law and what parents should do to keep their children away from the wrong path. 

- Oleksiy, in summer children have more free time. Doe not mean that in the period of summer vacations minors commit more crimes than during studies?

- Statistics prove that children commit more crimes during studies, in the period after classes at school and before 8 o'clock in the evening. In summer, incidents are less frequent, probably because children have more possibilities to apply their energy somewhere else - to go to the beach, to play football, to go to the forest. 

Besides, parents' care does not depend on seasons. If parents participate in child's life, they do t always. Do not consider summer vacations and free time as a threat, 'cause the problem is different.

- What is then?

- Descent of moral values. Many children repeat "Nobody cares about me". And this is the problem of rich and middle class families. Parents cruise around and leave their child with a nanny, who can never substitute the mother or father. In turn, the child wants to draw attention with any mean possible. First he tries eccentric clothes, then comes home drunk, then he finds a company and here we go...

- What are the signs that son or daughter got in with a bad crowd?

- It is individual for every child. For example, a child becomes unsociable, does not want to go to school or never tells how the school is going. This is a signal to visit child's tutor.

The child may often speak with someone on the phone, but neither the school nor friends know whose phone number it is. If parents regularly communicate with their son or daughter they will notice immediately that their child has secrets.   

- And what should parents do if bad signs are already obvious?

- They should learn more about child's company from alternative sources, may be to check child's phone, and I don't think it will be violation of his or her rights. But the most important is to talk. In fact, parents should sometimes read books on psychology to understand better their children. They should now that puberal growth stage is the most complicated in person's life.

- What are the most common crimes minors commit?

- In 56% of cases it is property crimes, phone thefts to be precise.

- Thus, it means that the reason is economical, when parents do not have financial possibilities to endow the child.

- I would not say that. I repeat, in my opinion, juvenile delinquency is a consequence of social factors. Children do not steal bread to eat, but expensive phones to be cool. Our society and advertising impose the idea that this gadget is a primary need, and only with a phone you are cool. And if parents cannot afford to buy an expensive toy, children chose to steal it. The reason is deficit of proper moral values in the society.

In 1990s I had a case of a boy, who committed 83 thefts for the period from 11 to 14 years of age. He dreamt to be a crowned thief and asked to put him in prison, like his uncle...These are values I am talking about.

- There are more and more talks about dangers and risks waiting for children in internet. Is it a wide spread problem in Ukraine, in your experience?

- Some parents seem happy that their child spend much time in internet, like he does not ask much, does not get in with bad people, etc. But I want to warn such parents that being night and day in internet does not mean that the child does not commit a crime or become a victim himself.

Cyber-bullying, when a young person torment, threaten, harass, or embarrass another young person using the Internet, is a common phenomenon now. For example, a teenage girl finds a friend in internet and her new friend asks for her intimate photo. Then he starts blackmailing her, like if you do not date me I will publish this photo in the net.

There are also cases, when teens humiliate or embarrass their peers, shoot the process on video and upload on internet. 

- Can police or court punish such teens somehow?

- Unfortunately, such children cannot be charged with any offence, as we do not have an article stipulating punishment for bullying or humiliation. Charges can be pressed only if a victim of bullying commits suicide. Moreover, minors become criminally liable at the age of 16, and only in really grave cases, like murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. - at the age of 14. 

- What are the reason's of child cruelty, in your opinion?

- There is a theory of Italy prison psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso, according to which appearance and genes predetermine criminal inclinations. For example, if a man has heavy superciliary ridges, narrow skull and long arms, it is a hundred percent chance he will become a criminal. It is hard to say how reliable this  theory is. However, everything comes back to parents and how they bring up their child to develop his best features of the character. Unfortunately, we do not have course how to be parents.

Origin of cruelty is always in the family. If a child humiliates others, it means he has witnessed violence in his family, for example the father hurting the mother.

- Considering modern technologies, violence in the family is not an obligatory condition. Movies and computer games are full pf violence as well.

- True. A Turkish policeman, someone I know, once studied the influence of violent computer fames on child's psychic. He showed me his presentations, including video - a four-year-old girls is playing "Supermario", cannot pass a level and falls into violent hysterics; a German eight-year-old boy is playing a computer game, then goes nuts and breaks the keyboard. There is also an interview of and American boy who enthusiastically speaks about a game where a player can shoot a policeman and earn some points. If the player cuts off the policeman's head, he will get a bonus. How about that?

In Ukraine there are also cases when children repeat computer violence in real life. I think you remember the case, when a boy killed his mother because she disturbed him when he was playing, and then continued playing like nothing happened...

However, the question is who should be the first to noticed changes in child's behavior. I believe those who live with him, his parents. Police officers cannot visit every family and supervise every child. I have only three thousand officers all over Ukraine, but the number of teens between 11 and 16 years of age is about eight million. For this we want to create a position of school police officer, who will stay in the school and supervise it. We have already worked out a special program of visits and supervision.

- What will police officers teach children at school?

- I hold several trainings monthly for officers to learn to work with children and talk to them We have a series of cartoons about drugs, adapted for children and explaining all negative consequences of drug abuse.

For example, there is a cartoon about boy Tyoma, who was offered to take a drug and agreed. The boy finds itself in a virtual world full of monsters, where hw sees a "wall of fame" of other abusers - one died at the age of 15, another at 17. This cartoon shows the effect of drugs on mind and health.
However, police officers are not teachers or psychologists. We can only tell the facts, crimes and consequences. We can also render service assistance for parents - to explain where to go and who to address if their child has already committed a crime or is very close to do so. In such cases we recommend to visit a family psychologist, social service, etc.

- How else can police help with "troubled" teens?

- There is a good Canadian correctional program for "troubled" children. It includes psychologists, priests and social workers.  When a policeman says that fighting is stealing is bad is one thing, but when the same is said by a reverend father it is completely different. Sometimes, studying Scripture has more profound effect that reading the Criminal Code.
Moreover, our psychologists teach children to communicate. Conflicts at school happen due to lack of communication skills, when children try to solve a problem with fists.

We try to adopt at least a part of the Canadian system, and with the help of UNICEF organize correction programs for prevention of risky behavior among minors. We have already launched pilot programs in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, but it is still not systemic. For this we stand for amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to be able to bring "troubled" children in the program by judicial process. 

- How many minors are registered and monitored by the police?

- Somewhat more that nine thousand. At the beginning of the year there were almost 13 thousand children, but after certain amendments came in force in February, the order of registration and supervision over juvenile delinquents has changed. There used to be ten categories of children falling under regular supervision, but three of then have been removed. We no longer supervise convicts on parole, the released or runaways (as it is not a crime, but a mental disturbance, which requires medical assistance).

- Does having records or being supervised affect the future of such children, for example upon entering a university?

- No, it is not public information. Even I do not know who these children are, I know only the total number. All personal data stays within district departments. besides, cases get revises every half a year, and if there are no visible risks police may withdraw the records.

-What is the general situation with  juvenile delinquency in Ukraine?

- The level of juvenile delinquency has decreased by 36% - from 8786 cases in 2012 to 5650 cases in 2013 (considering the same period time). Backslides have also decreased by 27%.

- What do you think about shutdown of schools for social rehabilitation?

- The problem is that at such schools every child costs the state about 130 thousand hryvnias a year. It is expensive. However, what can we do with children, who cannot be controlled even by the parents?

In the U.S., for example, they fight to preserve these special schools. Juvenile delinquents are sent their to wash the floor, march in the uniform and do sport. After 10 miles of running, they can hardly walk, let alone stealing or fighting. They may never become militaries or sportsmen, but at least they learn discipline.

- Thus, you stand for harsh training and education?

- I stand for proper education. I don not understand a parent who says his father beat him and it was right. Beating does not solve the problem. Children must be taught to perform a duty, like bringing out the garbage, for example. However, parents should always lead the way. A father, for example, should never say he has brought money and now can stay on the coach while the mother and child must clean, wash and cook. Instead, parents should form a family agreement, stipulating for everyone's duties, and going to school is one of the duties for the child.

Moreover, every child, without exception, should do some sport. Competitive sports, for example, have very strict rules, which do good for a child. Having learned to follow the rules on a playground, the child will follow them in the real world and real life.  

Alina Yeremeyeva


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