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People and Politics Forum 16. 07. 2010

"Is tougher punishment the answer to youth violence?"

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Youth violence in Germany - kids out of control

They can strike out for no reason at all, and don't seem to mind that their actions can kill. That's what happened with businessman Alois Brunner from Munich. Trying to protect some kids from bullies in the city's subway ended up costing him his life. The assailants are now pending trial. Our report looks at the roots of youth violence in Germany.

Our Question is:

"Is tougher punishment the answer to youth violence?"

Hannelore Krause from Germany says that is definitely the case:

"In most cases violence starts in the families of young people from the lower classes, families living off state benefits or from an migrant background. Children experience violence in the family if there is no education, no qualifications and no chance of a job. That destroys people. Alcohol may also be involved. People don't get to grips with youth violence. If the home is dysfunctional then there's nothing the schools can do. Teachers are already overloaded in this environment and the legal system often feels powerless. When convictions occur so much mitigating circumstance is brought into consideration that the sentences are very light. A Berlin juvenile judge drew up a model for dealing with Berlin's problem areas running according to the motto "deal with it early, thoroughly and based on the crime" in order to secure a teaching effect. She was in contact with the families, and the schools in order to raise awareness among parents, so they understand it. It remains to be seen just how successful this project will be. I chose not to mention her name, or her suicide- Her book, "The End of Patience...dealing consequentially with violent young offenders" was published recently."

Heinz Hohenstein in Canada blames a lack of religious discipline..

"It's not just a German problem. There is plenty of youth violence here in Canada. It is spreading in other countries. We have separated ourselves from the world of god and from god's laws. (...) so what's happening is no surprise. There is a shocking godlessness! A lack of respect for any form of authority; hatred, murder and violence are everyday things. If we want things to improve we need to return to god and his word. That would be a great blessing."

Herbert Fuchs in Finland says it's time to get tough on violent youths:

"It's terrible to hear about youth violence in Germany and elsewhere. Sure there are lots of factors like unemployment, unfinished apprenticeships, broken homes, no education and so on. Who is to blame? The times we are living in or the fast globalized world which excuses nothing? These toothless laws and defense lawyers show that people have lost the thread in Germany. Unfortunately we live in a totally crazy time and just look at the people we see everyday. Some run around looking and behaving like fools, others are going crazy and lots of young people commit murder and manslaughter at the slightest insult or a wrong look at the bus stop. What should we do? (...) Do we need more police or tougher laws like in the USA? In my opinion people who hurt others for base reasons should be sent to labor camps with their legs in chains and under strict supervision.(...)That would show them what it means to have respect for other peoples' lives. Everyone has to learn how to behave themselves, whichever kind of home they come from. If not, then they should be given a tough punishment by law, which will not be perceived as ridiculous(...)

But Gerhard Seeger in the Philippines says harder punishment yes...but considered.

"Youth violence has risen steadily over recent decades. A lot of reasons have been suggested...like films which portray the members of brutal gangs as cool. But there is also the celebration of violence in rap songs and brutal video games. That could all play a role as well as alcohol and other drugs. What about the parents? It's true that a lot of people had a tough upbringing, they were neglected for various reasons, even abused. In some cases both the parents go to work, that's necessary unfortunately, because one income is not enough.(...) By the age of sixteen people need to understand that it is not right to beat people up or even kill them. The people shown in the report were older and showed no remorse. They were treated with kid gloves for too long. Psychological counseling and social workers did not help. That can only help those people who are willing to be helped. Maybe the punishments should be harder. But they have to be considered- If they are too hard that will make people even more aggressive. They should definitely not be locked up with older criminals."

In Germany, Alexander Walczuch agrees, suggesting some youngsters just don’t get it:

„If an 18-year-old doesn’t understand that violence isn’t a choice, you will have to lock him away until he does….This is about morality and the minimum rules of living together in society.“

No, it is not the answer, says Renè Junghans in Brazil:

„It’s about time people thought about the reasons for juvenile violence. This, as it seems, lost generation is the result of failing family structures, a lack of parental love and educational mistakes.…So kids made up for it by joining together in groups and gangs.

That was then exacerbated by alcohol and later by drugs abuse, and the chaos was complete. Soon, violence was the next step, which I believe is just a sort of wake-up call by juveniles seeking attention and reminding people that they exist. More punishment will just make them more aggressive…“

A point taken up by Peter Buege in Brazil:

„It just triggers more frustration. I know what I am talking about because I was one of those deemed to be incorrigible. Everyone needs to find his own way and make his own decisions.“

And Mr Buege recounts his personal story

„I was „taught“ by the Foreign Legion. I received lessons that I would never have learnt had I stayed in Germany… Nowaday I pat myself on the back for not going down any dark roads. Youth welfare offices, psychiatrists aren’t the right ones for the job. What the youngsters of today need are experienced role models. That’s how you really learn!“

The editors of “People and Politics” reserve the right to abridge viewers’ letters.