A small minority of troubled youth are contributing significantly to the surging crime in New Zealand, but some officials say more attention needs to go to the offenders’ families to prevent and help children stay away from a life of crime.
The most common method of stealing being used by New Zealand youths is ram-raiding, where a vehicle is rammed into a store and then looted.
Phil Goff, the mayor of Auckland, told The Epoch Times that greater attention needs to be given to the children’s problematic home environment, which is often the root of the issue.
“Ram raids are associated with young offenders of an average age of 14,” Goff said. “There is an element of copycat in the offending and a small number are involved in multiple incidents.”
“The common factor according to police are kids from violent homes where there is drug and alcohol abuse and the challenge is to target the cause of the offending.”
Some children as young as seven have been reportedly caught going out in the middle of the night to steal toys and candy, while others have carried out more brazen burglaries and stolen jewellery in the middle of the day in front of many witnesses.
Missing From Classrooms
The mayor noted that the recent wave of ram raids is also related to COVID-19, which caused a concerning increase in school absenteeism. Many of these children have become completely disengaged from school and have not returned.
In response, the government has set out to address the issue, with Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti announcing a national school attendance target.
School attendance has been declining across the board since 2015, Tinetti said on June 9, a trend that accelerated during COVID-19.
“[It] now sits at around 60 percent of students who turn up 90 percent of the time,” she said in a statement.
Goff said the children carrying out youth crime pose a risk to both themselves and the community and authorities.
“Police and other agencies need to focus on dealing with the dysfunctional families they come from, changing behaviour and stopping these young offenders from joining gangs and going on to a life of crime,” he said.
Ian Lambie, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Auckland, agreed that when addressing the issue of youth crime, it was important to start from the family.
“These young people clearly come from pretty challenging, difficult families where the parents or caregivers really lack or don’t have the ability to provide adequate supervision. And I think it’s parenting. So it comes down to parenting and supervision,” he told The Epoch Times.
Just A ‘Phase’
Lambie said youth crime has always been present in New Zealand, but years ago, instead of ram-raiding, young offenders were instead driving down motorways on the wrong side or stealing cigarettes and alcohol over the counter.
“Things go through a bit of a phase—and this is not to minimise it—but this is kind of another one of those crazes,” he said, adding that social media played a contributing role.
According to a 2021 report published by the Ministry of Justice, offending rates for children (aged 10 to 13) and young people (aged 14 to 16) decreased by 65 percent and 63 percent, respectively, between 2010/11 to 2020/21 (pdf).
But it also noted that the proportion of offending children who commit more serious crimes has increased constantly since 2013/14, from 24 to 36 percent.
There have been some calls for more serious consequences for youth offenders, with the Opposition National Party calling the government “soft on crime.”
However, Lambie, who is also the chief science advisor to the justice sector in the prime minister’s office, said giving harsher sentences would only make the situation worse in the long run.
“If you put these kids in prison, it criminalises them. So in order to survive, they’ve got to join gangs, they’ve got to become more hardened,” he said. “And that just makes it worse, which results in more victims and greater cost to society.”
Gang violence makes up another significant portion of the violence and crime New Zealand is currently seeing.
Lambie suggests that therapy and intervention programs should engage with more younger children, from ages five to 12, calling it a gap in the current system.
“I think it’s a solvable problem,” he said. “But I think we can focus on a younger cohort, a younger group of children that are coming through.”