Authorities clamp down on gang members as youth-led gangsterism rear its ugly head, but deterrence is a better method.
Street gangs have been painting the town red this past month—literally. Barely a week after 19-year-old polytechnic student Darren Ng was murdered in a gang faceoff at Downtown East in Pasir Ris, seven youths aged between 14 to 20 were set upon by a group of parang-wielding men in Bukit Panjang. Less than two weeks later, another youth slashing incident at Ang Mo Kio resulted in a 17-year-old getting slashed on the arm.
One thing that stands out starkly in this spate of violence and lawlessness is the tender age of the perpetrators. Where previously the term “gangster” conjured up images of middle-aged roughnecks, most of the suspects arrested in the aforementioned cases are either still in their teens or early twenties. These are not the sort of organized crime gangs that engage in illegal money-making activities; most of these are street gangs where the main agenda is brotherhood. Still, a gang is a gang, and even as the cops are swooping down on the suspects, there is no quick, lasting fix to weed out the problem of gangterism and violence.
“Children have to be taught to fear the law from young. Deterrence is a better measure with young people,” says Jonathan Tang, 27, a family friend to Darren Ng’s family, and who was once deeply involved in gangs himself.
As the Bible teaches, bad company corrupts good character. The period during which parents should be wary is when the child goes to secondary school, between ages 12 to 16. “They need to know who their children mix with, especially over the weekend, and be assertive about things like letting them go out late at night or stay out overnight—gang members usually like to gather at chalets or go clubbing. Drive them over to where they are meeting their friends if possible. Have dinner with them at least once a week,” says Tang.
Tang also cautions parents not to overlook habits such as smoking. “Tough love is important. Nobody likes to do it, but you have to be strong to do what you know is right for your child. It’s very easy to be nice; it’s much harder to make the hard decisions early on in the child’s life.”
Adds Don Wong, vice-president of the Association of Christian Halfway Houses and executive pastor at The New Charis Mission, “Once they’re involved in gangs, it will take time to ‘wean’ them off it, as they have already gone through the stages of finding acceptance, respect, friendship and so on within the group. There are various root problems which contribute to this.” The search for acceptance, illusion of respect and power are just some of the contributing factors.
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Wong recalls being asked to counsel a group of 13 youths, within which three different gangs were represented. “At this stage, you’re doing a lot of fire-fighting.” Advocating preventative programs on a national level is the most effective way to fight gangsterism.
As children hit the age of 12, they do not just go through physical but social development as well, and the natural inclination to explore and discover at this age is made all the trickier by “fingertip information” found online. In the Nov. 19 edition of
“Isn’t it ironic that our children spend the majority of their time between school and home but yet when they encounter problems, it’s their friends they run to first?” Wong said. Parents need to learn to be accepting and understanding of their children—even when it comes to the little, seemingly trivial details, such as shopping for clothes.
Using a real-life scenario with his 12-year-old daughter, who sometimes does not want to wear the clothes her parents have chosen for her, Wong says, “Explore together with them. Find out what they prefer instead, and go over their choices with them.”
“We cannot take the ‘you do what I say’ tone with our children anymore. The truth is, the youth want to be given boundaries, they just don’t want to be talked down to,” he concludes.
The New Paper, it was reported that gang members in Johor Bahru, as in other places worldwide, are using Facebook to recruit new members. If you need help, or know of somebody who does, please call Robin Tay, program coordinator at The New Charis Mission and Don Wong, Executive Director of The New Charis Mission at +65 6483 3707.