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It Feels Like It’s The End Of The World: Cape Town’s Youth Talk About Gangs and Community Violence

NCJ Number
Catherine L. Ward
Date Published
July 2007
108 pages
This report presents the results of a child participation study on children’s involvement in violence, particularly that relating to gangs and other kinds of organized armed violence in Cape Town.
Children in Cape Town reported exposure to high rates of crime and violence in their communities, and viewed gangsterism as deeply embedded in the social fabric. They had developed careful strategies for staying safe, such as walking only in certain areas and never walking alone. They described living with high levels of fear and frustration because of the restrictions that gang activity placed on their lives. Factors involved in determining whether children get involved in gangs include: the individual child, the family, the school, the peer group, the neighborhood, and the broader socio-political context. These factors might either increase risk for gang membership or protect against it. All the risk factors identified by the children are supported by the literature on risk and protection for violent behavior among youth. Several recommendations for intervention are presented and discussed with preventive interventions ranked highest on the children’s list. A few recommendations were also made with regard to children already involved in organized armed violence. In short, the children wanted their families, schools and neighborhoods to be safe and to work together to carry out the ordinary tasks of child-rearing. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was contracted by the Children in Organized Armed Violence (COAV) to conduct a child participation study involving 300 children in focus group discussions relating to the nature of violence experienced and perpetrated by children. The study was to include inquiry into: children’s involvement in gangs, their reasons for joining gangs, their views about how children’s engagement in gangs might be prevented and reduced, and the kinds of policies and programs that should be implemented to reduce children’s involvement in organized armed violence in South Africa.