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27 Oct, 2010 05:56

Lost generation: Russia tops youth crime table

Ranked by the World Health Organization as having the highest rate of youth crime in Europe, Russia is faced with the tough task of rehabilitating its young people and improving the statistics.

Please show us on this doll where exactly you stabbed him with the knife," a police officer asks a teenager in a crime reconstruction video.

The boy points to the head of the dummy and says he stabbed the victim “roughly seven or ten times." Along with his gang, he carried out a brutal murder, and is now heading to one of Russia’s 62 young offenders’ institutions.

Already being held in one such institution is Oleg Rozanov. He has so far served more than half of his sentence for committing a racial murder. He was a 15-year-old skinhead when he and his friends attacked a foreign looking youth.

"I saw the guy's knife lying next to him,” Oleg recalls. “I suddenly thought: ‘he must have been using this knife to kill Russians.’ I stabbed him twice and then passed it to my three friends who each knifed him."

Stabbings account for almost half of the homicides carried out by youngsters in the European and Central Asian region, according to the report by the World Health Organization. It is the first comprehensive study published in Europe on the subject. It puts Russia top of the table, with the highest rate of violence among the surveyed age group of 10 to 29-year-olds.

Those who deal with young offenders in Russia, say they are not surprised by the country’s ranking.

"A change in psychology, morale and moral values – all this contributes to an extremely high crime rate whipped up by the activities of religious sects,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Center for Legal and Psychological Assistance in Emergency Situations.

He adds that media and “its stories full of blood” are also to blame for the violence.

Young people become both the victims and perpetrators of the violence, often caused by reasons rooted in childhood.

Sergey Popkov, head of a juvenile correctional facility in Mozhaisk, says a lack of parental love and attention eventually lead to the problem.

"We, grown-ups, parents, are often too busy earning our living. Maybe we should simply love our children,” Mr. Popkov suggests. “The main reason behind those crimes is the absence of parental love. We remember our kids when they are already behind bars, and that is the last place they should be."

Approximately 5,700 minors are currently serving prison terms in Russia. The majority of them come from a one-parent family or children’s homes.

Police say about 80 per cent of serious juvenile crimes take place in the evening or at night when children are supposed to be looked after by their parents. However, in reality many often end up on the streets searching for their own entertainment, which often includes drinking alcohol – a factor that has been fueling youth crime in Russia.

Russian authorities, however, claim the situation among minors is now slowly improving.

"We should be careful when talking of youth crimes,” said Colonel Elena Novolitseva, from the Public Safety Department. “There are minors or those who have not reached the age of 18, and youths, who are up to 30 years old. [The latter] entails a whole different spectrum of crimes. I am dealing with the underage crowd. And in the past five years I have seen a considerable drop in the crime rate."

Meanwhile, as many young people who are serving sentences hope to be able to remain crime-free in the future, it may be down to those on the other side of the barbed wire to ensure they do not become another lost generation.

The United Nations Children's Fund carried out studies on the reasons for the high youth crime rate, and found out that many children came to the streets trying to escape from the problems they were facing in their families: poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic violence.

To detect early particular risks affecting families and children, a strong social protection system is needed, believes Bertrand Bainvel, the UNICEF representative in Russia.

If we do that, we will be able to reduce both the number of violence cases against children and the number of violence cases perpetrated by young people and children,” he said.

However, Bainvel also suggests that while European countries are quite good at protecting children, they might have neglected the demands and problems of adolescents.

Probably we fail to address in an adequate and appropriate way the needs and the rights of young people,” admitted Bainvel.