Definition of "Urban Youth at Risk"
“Youth at risk” can be defined as young people whose background places them "at risk" of future offending or victimization due to environmental, social and family conditions that hinder their personal development and successful integration into the economy and society.
From an operational crime prevention perspective, the conference will seek to focus on "Urban Youth at Risk" between the ages of 12 and 24 years. These will include different categories of vulnerable urban youth, male and female, both individually and in groups such as youth gangs and street youth.
It is important to target groups requiring different types of actions. For instance, although national- and city-level inclusion policies provide long-term solutions to the society crisis, some groups may require immediate, short-term actions to contrast their particular increasing marginalization.
One significant group in this context is youth gangs. Adequate responses that focus on developing a sense of citizenship among youth gangs can have a double effect. On one hand, they ensure their inclusion as "protagonists" to advocate for their own re-education. On the other hand, they can also act through communities to decriminalise youth gangs, which act as "social networks" for youth and to identify and modify the social factors that lead to delinquent behaviours. Street youth and unemployed youth are other significant groups in the Latin American and Caribbean context of urban youth at risk.
Context: Urban youth at risk in Latin America and the Caribbean
Today’s urban youth suffer an unprecedented risk of social exclusion. Focusing on urban youth in Latin America and the Caribbean is important for many reasons. First, according to estimates by the Population Division of the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (ECLADE), almost 80% of the region’s youth currently reside in urban areas; this concentration coincides with the bulk of urban poverty. Second, many rural youth have chosen to migrate to urban centres seeking to improve their quality of life. Finally, the situation of urban youth in the region reveals – more intensely and dramatically than any other youth sector – the tensions generated by the integration of young people into contemporary societies as they adjust to the dynamic of the new development styles.
Addressing urban youth crime and violence at the local level through integrated policies
Urban youth crime and violence occurs in different contexts, have multiple causes and require multiple responses. Experiences over the last decade show that responses to Urban Youth at Risk at the local level are more effective than exclusive, centralised policies. In fact, responses at the local level facilitate greater involvement of local actors, starting with the family, with back-up support from the community. The various causes and risk factors should be deconstructed and analysed and responses developed locally through joint efforts of key city and neighbourhood actors.
The key role of local authorities in addressing urban youth crime
Local authorities have an important role to play in dealing with youth delinquency given that young people are the future of their communities. Yong people are not only more likely to become involved in offending but are also very likely to be victims themselves. Local authorities should strive to ensure that young people, particularly those most at risk, are perceived not just as offenders but also as victims and should find ways to involve them in civic processes at every level. In particular, cities have the following responsibilities:
- Family and community level: Local authorities should find ways of integrating and supporting the role of families in early prevention and enhancing community support through diversion measures for young offenders.
- Victim aid programmes: Young people are also the victims of violence and in this context, local authorities can facilitate sensitisation and training courses for all local stakeholders on ways of detecting various forms of distress and encourage victims to speak out.
- Education system: The school in particular is a channel for transmitting civic values to the youth and involving them in every level of decision-making.
Local authorities are also the driving forces of essential partnerships that should bring together all key local players of a city. Local authorities should also take the leadership to develop partnerships between cities in order to promote exchange of experience and shared learning.
The key role of local authorities in promoting citizenship among youth
Young people are both the object and means of sustainable development, a potential engine of innovation and change and where the capacity to respond to change also is concentrated. Citizenship implies that living together is not a passive exercise: people and particularly youth must actively contribute to the common good in cities. Young citizens must participate in decision-making processes. Local authorities must therefore develop a genuine dialogue with young people and consult and involve them in decisions that directly concern them.
Local authorities must accept that young people form part of the solution to their problem and must therefore be treated as partners. Local youth councils, city youth parliaments and other forms of local and regional youth forums must be supported. These forms of youth participation all give importance to the position of youth as active members of their communities and can also influence the way local governments are managed and deliver services.
Educating youth at risk on values of citizenship from their specific situation
All youth, and in particular urban youth at risk, need to be involved in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies designed to integrate them into society. If the process of transforming categories of youth at risk such as youth gangs into good citizens is to be achieved, it is necessary to make them actors of their own future and that of their community.
Another process of transformation is through the development of youth profiles as a citizenship tool. Youth profiles not only provide the basis to understand the motivations of young people in crime and the role of the family, school, and community in the rehabilitation or reintegration of youth at risk, but also provide an opportunity for youth at risk to express their opinions, hopes and fears for the future. This expression enables a better understanding of youth by the community and informs the development of an inclusive strategy that seeks to empower youth.
Decriminalising youth at risk
When viewed in the context of social exclusion, youthful first offences and hooliganism do not constitute an entry into delinquency but rather correspond more to a period of crisis in the individual's life.
Criminalising, for instance by imprisonment, only serves to stigmatise them as "criminals", making them more vulnerable to becoming involved in organized crime. This situation also stigmatises their families.
Building on existing experiences
Organizations that work with urban youth at risk have accumulated experiences that need to be analysed and the results disseminated. It is particularly important to compare the negative versus positive results and the challenges posed to the organizations and communities working with the integration young offenders.
It is also important to distinguish the different situations that confront youth at risk and to develop interventions specifically tailored to these situations. For example, the situation of street children offenders is different from individual offenders or from that of organized youth gangs engaged in crime. Similarly, the entry into child prostitution by young girls generates different consequences compared to other acts of delinquency such as shoplifting. Last but not least, drug abuse among youths requires also specific interventions.