Youth violence | Sunday Observer

Youth violence

Violence - a way of life
Violence - a way of life

We often come across violence in different forms. Murder, drug trafficking, thefts and sexual assault top the list. It would be tragic if the future of a nation is destroyed by violence. But, violence seems to be the new-trend among the youth of our country. The country is still reeling from the shock of two recent homicides, involving youth.

Will anyone stop and heed?

The first incident was the murder of a student in Matara allegedly by another student and recorded on a CCTV camera which received much publicity in the mainstream media and social media. The other was the murder of a young woman, allegedly by her paramour in Moneragala, which was recorded and circulated through social media channels. It was a youth, of similar age, with similar aspirations and dreams for the future who had been instrumental in snuffing out the lives of both people.

These were eye-openers to what is currently happening to the youth of our country. At the same time, it raised the question whether we perform our duties and responsibilities as adults regarding the young generation. Peer aggression though much prevalent among Sri Lankan youth has not yet gone to the point of no return. Though adolescent dating relationships had led to violence and suicide, the inhumane act of video recording a murder reportedly by two friends of the perpetrator had not happened before.

A few years ago, the World Health Assembly declared violence a major Public Health issue and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued the first World Report on Violence and Health. The report examines different forms of violence such as youth violence, child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, elder abuse, self-directed violence and collective violence. The report analyses the extent of health and social effects, the risk and protective factors and the types of prevention efforts which have been initiated. But the questions still remain. What are the reasons behind these incidents? Why do young people choose violence to solve their conflicts? Why do they express anger in a brutal manner? Who should be responsible? What are the steps that we could take in order to eradicate violence?

The Sunday Observer exploring the sociological and psychological aspects on youth violence spoke to Emeritus Professor Harendra De Silva, who had conducted years of research in to the psychosocial aspects affecting Sri Lankan youth, and with eminent sociologist Prof. Siri Hettige, Head of the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo.

“The school environment has a direct influence on this,” said Prof. Siri Hettige on the recent youth violence. Socialisation is taught first at home and then at school. The school is a place where students socialise most, but our education system is not geared properly for this, it only prepares them for passing exams. The Principal and the teacher are the role models who guide students in the entire 13 years of school,” he said. However, at present what we clearly see is the school being devalued. Many children attend private tuition classes instead of attending school. As a result, they spend much time outside school and home without any guidance at all. They are basically left to themselves. Here, they are exposed to many anti social activities that result in violence.

Prof. Harendra De Silva said that Sri Lanka is full of violence. Non violence though practised by ancient kings of Sri Lanka doesn’t prevail in the country at present. From childhood they could be beaten, verbally assaulted, condemned, ridiculed and blamed. Even though Sri Lanka has been signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child since 1990, and celebrates the World Children’s Day each year, we have disregarded and ignored the most important aspects regarding children, he said. Signing conventions is useless unless they are implemented.

Recent research had revealed that within a term nearly 72.5% of school- children are subjected to downgrading and discrimination at school, in front of a class full of students. It had found that 53% of school-children physically injured, punished and/or sexually abused at school by the adults who are supposed to take care of them. Childhood trauma leading to juvenile and adult violence is a globally accepted fact.

Another research study conducted in Galle had revealed that 20% of girls and 10% of boys are subjected to sexual abuse. “Child sexual abuse is a severe issue that results in violence in adolescents,” said Prof. De Silva.

The trauma caused by the war against terrorism, still echoing in the lives of people, is another reason. “Even though the war is over, there are people who were mentally and physically affected as a result of war. They could be soldiers, families who lost their loved ones or any others who were victims of war,” said Prof. De Silva. A community that had under gone trauma expresses the pressure and the pain of mental and physical wounds, in different ways. Research had also revealed that most of the underworld thugs in the country who are involved in murders had been soldiers, who once served the country.

Liquor and illicit drugs are also to be blamed for youth violence. It is estimated that the consumption of liquor has increased 10 times within the past few years. Drug consumption is a new trend, popular among youth. Social media had given wings to the culture of drugs and alcohol. Politicians, who should be responsible for eradicating youth drug addiction, aid, abet and even run drug and alcohol cartels for their own personal benefit.

The pathetic state of law and order, is another reason encouraging youth violence in society, said Prof. De Silva. “The duty of the police is not to find the perpetrators of murders, but to stop murders happening in the first place.” However, when it comes to carrying out their duties the guardians of law fail drastically, falling under political pressure or the lure of money.

Domestic violence, creating ample opportunities for children and youth to experience violence is another reason. The home is not a peaceful place any more. Unfortunately, some children experience violence within the family before they get any taste of peace and harmony. There are TV shows and video games bringing violence to the home, making children immune to its harmful effects, portraying violence as part and parcel of everyday life. “Those who encounter violence during childhood end up being violent in their adolescence and tend to be violent as adults,” Prof. De Silva said.

How could we eradicate violence from society? Responsibility is the key, he said. Prevention could be enabled in different forms. The Government should shoulder the major part of this responsibility in protecting the community against violence. The Defence sectors need to be empowered so that they would carry out their duties not cowing down to bribes or political power. Awareness creation could be carried out through social media, and through educational systems and work-places. Parents and adults have a greater responsibility in eradicating violence in society because they are the role models children follow. In addition, allowing avenues for healing at an emotional and spiritual level, through more institutions offering therapy, counselling and conflict resolution programs, would help in our walk towards a peaceful society.