“Many parents do not keep tabs on what their young ones are up to, and we often do not realise that something is amiss until it is too late.”–Tony Sahni, Securex Group Managing Director.
The menace of juvenile gangs is not new to Coastal residents, but it is most certainly a criminal trend that has been on the rise since the beginning of the year. According to media reports, police in Mombasa County are keeping tabs on nearly 40 such criminal gangs, from the more established set-ups such as Wakali Wao and Wakali Kwanza to smaller gangs operating within residential estates and informal settlements.
“We have profiled them and we know that there are close to 40 such gangs. We have done sector-by-sector deployment and there is 24-hour surveillance tracking their movements,” said former County Commissioner Maalim Mohammed in August.
The gangs are believed to operate on different turfs across the county, with hotspots including Changamwe, Mtwapa, Kisauni, Old Town, Likoni, and Majengo. Suspects have also been arrested in Chaani, Buxton, and Jomvu.
The gangs are characterized by the ages of their members, who range from 12 to 18-years-old. The heightened criminal activity in the region led to the United States Embassy to issue a travel advisory for Old Town in July. Authorities in Mtwapa were also forced to shut down two bodaboda stations where operators were suspected of being involved in criminal activity. According to Securex Group Managing Director Tony Sahni, peer pressure could be playing a pivotal role in luring the juveniles into crime.
“Issues such as poverty, the desire for a quick buck, as well as idleness are certainly causal factors, but peer pressure and perhaps laxity when watching over our children probably contribute more to the escalating crime rate,” said Mr. Sahni.
“Our children are now leaving home every morning fully dressed for school, only to later play truant and accost innocent civilians in streets and dark alleyways.
There are a few tell-tale signs that your child might be involved in organized crime. For instance, note if they begin arriving home late without explanation. Parents might also find that their son or daughter has huge amounts of money or high-value items, and they can’t explain where they received it from. They may also arrive home with a string of unexplained injuries that may indicate physical confrontation, and they typically become defensive or hostile when questioned,” he explained.
According to Mr. Sahni, parents and guardians need to keep a close eye on their children’s activities outside of school, in addition to monitoring who their friends are.
“We need to keep our children engaged at all times in order to keep their minds occupied beyond school. Most teenagers are lured into crime by their peers, so it is also imperative for parents to know who their sons and daughters spend their time with. If they have mobile phones, their cell phone usage should also be kept in check to ensure the gadgets are used for constructive activities.”
Mr. Sahni also expressed concern over how parents confront children or loved ones suspected of being involved in criminal activity. For example, a man in Changamwe was recently arraigned in court and sentenced to three months in prison for assaulting his mother and daughter, who had locked him inside their house and threatened to frisk him for drugs.
“It would be advisable not to openly or directly confront someone whom you suspect to be involved in illegal activity. Parents and guardians should consider a more covert approach for their own safety and are urged to avoid physical confrontation if possible.”
While the situation threatens to spiral out of control, the Kenyan government has done a lot in the last few months to bring the menace to an end. Issuing amnesties is a tactic that has worked in the past, with over 200 suspected gangsters recently surrendering themselves to the police. Once taken into custody, it is crucial to rehabilitate the reformed youth in a timely and comprehensive manner to prevent a relapse into crime.
“Societal trauma can potentially be a hindrance to full rehabilitation of a reformed criminal, and it would be advisable to give these young men and women all the support and attention required to keep them on the right side of the law,” Mr. Sahni concluded.