On the Website Russia-Travel-Romance.com there is an article called “Facts on Russia” which gives some basic information concerning different aspects of Russians’ life, ranging from the general outline on the Russian history to some present realities, which are considered to be important for those who are visiting Russia for the first time, or are still planning to make such a trip in the nearest future. In other words, it is a kind of a reference book or a guide-book in an on-line access. Among the short chapters of this guide-book there is one which is closely connected with the topic of this essay – it is called “Staying Safe in Russia”, which begins with the warning addressed to foreigners, and it runs as follows: “Juvenile delinquency, organized crime and corruption may occur in Russia.” The rest of the chapter presents another flow of curious notes, but it is that cited above which should be focused on, namely the words “Juvenile delinquency”. And it is a problem to which this essay is devoted.
The major attention will be attached to two main points: the first one is to indicate possible causes of juvenile delinquency, and the second is how this problem is treated and solved nowadays by different Russian institutions.
But it would be reasonable to start with giving a definition to what is meant by “juvenile delinquency”. According to the definition given in “Children’s Britannica”, juvenile delinquency is “a criminal act which is committed by a child or young person” (see: Children’s Britannica, Volume 10. – p. 178). Hutchinson’s Encyclopedia similarly defines juvenile delinquency as a group of “offences against the law that are committed by young people”. These are the commonest definitions which may be found in almost every book or publication on the criminal law and criminology, so one should notice that only the result is reflected in such definitions. In contrast, sociologists try to give more exhaustive definitions taking into account different factors which build up and influence a person. For example, they use psychological approaches and their own methods in analyzing the problem.
Both psychologists and sociologists agree that family is one of the significant factors to influence a child. Recent studies of delinquency in Russia have indicated that most delinquents come from problem families. Relationships within a family may be excessively difficult: the parents may be divorced; they may be violent or drink too much; they may themselves be criminals. BBC News Website, for instance, placed a report by Sarah Rainsford, which is called “Moscow’s street kids army”, where she spoke about a 13-year-old boy, Dima by name, who had been living rough in Moscow for four months. The journalist interviewed the boy and he said: “My stepfather's an alcoholic. He used to shout at me and hit me. So I left. Now I live here, at the station. I sleep on central heating pipes, or on a train. The police sometimes pick us up, but they always let us out again.” Researchers, furthermore, believe that “families are no longer effectively helping to protect their children from delinquency” (see: Donchenko E. N. English for psychologists and sociologists, 2002. – p.p. 134-136). According to this source, there have been big changes in the pattern of family life in the past 10 or 15 years with more mothers working outside the home, more marriage breakdowns and an increase in the numbers of single parent families. Thus, young people’s lives seem to be more autonomous than those of earlier generations, and there is ample publicity about apparent increases in vandalism, shoplifting, drug misuse and hooliganism, to say nothing of still increasing number of street or homeless children and teenagers.
In spite of the fact that President Vladimir Putin called the rise in the number of street children, a "threat to national security" (BBC News Website) and ordered the government to take action, there are still as many as 50,000 children living on the streets of the Russian capital, begging, stealing and sometimes selling themselves to get by. The same tendency may be traced in other cities of Russia as well. The rate of crimes annually committed by the Russian street teenagers is also high and exceeds 100,000 (according to the information of Itar-Tass).
More precise figures concerning young people committed crimes are given in “The Russian annual reference book on statistics”. In accordance with its statistical data among 100 there were only 12.5 convicted young people, aged from 14 to 17, in 2003 (see: The Russian annual reference book on statistics, 2004. – p. 299). In connection with age of delinquents one striking tendency should be stressed: juvenile delinquents in Russia are becoming younger. The Russian Interior Ministry informs that there are delinquents younger than nine years old and even 6-year-olds are arrested (from RIA Novosti).
Another not less important factor affecting the rate of delinquents in Russia is interaction of different social classes and involvement of juveniles into that interaction. On the other hand, this factor is connected with the problem of homeless children and unsuccessful families. In its turn such a combination may lead to juvenile drug-abusing, drug-dealing, shoplifting and even killing.
Drug abuse among juveniles in Russia is comparatively a new trend, but it becomes more serious, dangerous and widely spread year after year. Little wonder, then, that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “Drugs are tearing apart our societies, spawning crime, spreading diseases such as AIDS, and killing our youth and our future” (see: “School English”, ##13-14, 2003. – p. 6). Really, people involved with drugs are responsible for crimes such as drug trafficking and drug-related homicides, and juveniles do not make an exception. To better understand the psychology of juveniles in connection with drugs it is reasonable to know why young people may be drawn to drugs. So, the World Health Organization presents five reasons: 1) they want to feel grown-up and make their own decisions; 2) they want to fit in; 3) they want to relax and feel good; 4) they want to take risks and rebel; 5) they want to satisfy their curiosity. Thus, friends of a juvenile and environment which influenced his development may be seen as another considerable factor. For example, psychologists prove that juveniles’ behavior is highly marked by a strong wish to act in accordance with a scheme suggested to them by a negative environment, or they begin to act holding to the principle ‘the goal justifies the means’.
A decisive factor may also be educational achievement. A large proportion of delinquents in Russia have a record of bad behavior at school and drop out at an early age. With poor job prospects and low status, a young person may seek to vent his frustration with society by taking to crime.
Thus, we have just mentioned the general causes of juvenile delinquency. Next, we turn to the ways these problems are treated and solved by Russian government.
To begin with, it should be traditionally flagged that Russian government is, surely, ambitious in trying to solve problems. For example, according to the federal program “Russian Youth” 2001-2005 some measures to effectively solve the problems were introduced. The most urgent among them are: to establish system of drug-situation monitoring in the Russian Federation; to create system of anti-drug propaganda: to enhance work in healthy life style propaganda, make special publications for teenagers, youth, parents, psychologists; to create complex plan in drug, alcohol and smoking prevention in Russia on the basis of federal and regional programs; to provide qualified urgent psychological support for teenagers and youth; to develop network of youth and teenagers’ centers, providing free-time activities; to enhance system of social services for teenagers and youth, including centers of medical-social service for addicted; to establish effective program for youth and teenagers employment; to support volunteer activities in youth and student organizations; to establish legal guarantees for organizations that work in social and legal protection of youth.
Then, Russians also have a law on juvenile delinquency passed in 1999. But Boris Altshuler, director of the Rights of the Child group in Moscow, said for BBC News that this law is “misguided”. "This law, in an absolutely crazy way, forbade police from intervening with any child in the street who has not committed a crime," he explains. We cannot but agree with Mr. Altshuler on his remark that "Russia is perhaps the only country in the world where a policeman, when he sees a child in the street, tries not to notice him."
Though in Moscow the shelters for street children are being built, they cannot be a good solution of the problem. Those, who understand this, make open statements that it would be better to invest in a major social work programme, to focus on the families - to train specialists to help them.
Summing it up, one should take into consideration that the tremendous changes in the social and economic spheres in Russia, together with the extremely negative trends in the overall structure of crime since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have drawn attention away from juvenile delinquency. During this time, however, juvenile delinquency – in the form of violence, drunkenness, drug crimes, and other offenses characteristic of adolescents – has become an increasing concern in the country. The larger structural problems of increasing poverty and divorce rates, and decreases in funding for social services and education, translate into higher risks of offending for youth. Furthermore, Russia has no true juvenile justice system to deal with adolescent offenders and, due to the absence of alternative measures, juveniles are increasingly finding their way into reform colonies at younger ages and for relatively minor offenses. The future of Russia is somewhat at stake.
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