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Kazak Teen Killers

Police are battling an unprecedented surge in rapes and murders perpetrated by youngsters.
By Yuliana Zhikhor
Western societies may be becoming increasingly used to teenage crime but Kazakstan - where the phenomenon was once unknown - is reeling over the murder of six people by a group of children.



The killings took place on the night of May 14, when three wards of the Pavlodar Oblast Children's Home killed four workers and two other residents while in a state of extreme intoxication. Another detainee was left with critical injuries. After the attack, the perpetrators set fire to a dormitory block and ran away.



When police arrived they found a message written in blood on a wall, in which one of killers - a 17-year-old named Aleksandr - declared his love for a girl called Vera. This was followed by the confession, "We killed seven people; there were three of us."



The teenagers were caught only hours later and admitted their guilt. But as one of the policemen who detained them complained, "They were not upset by what had happened. Either they hadn't realised what they had done or they had become totally callous."



The killers' only explanation was that they were fed up with restrictions placed on their freedom by teachers.



Police have detected a general rise in juvenile delinquency and crime of late. Since the beginning of this year alone, minors have committed one rape, several murders and numerous thefts and burglaries. Police investigating these incidents say the cynicism and indifference of the young criminals is astounding.



An inspector for juvenile delinquency in Almaty said, "When they commit a crime - even if it is murder - many of them don't feel remorse. They feel like heroes."



One of this year's most gruesome youth crimes involved a group of teenagers from a school in the Aktyubinsk Oblast who brutally murdered a fellow student in February. It appears they killed their classmate because they were jealous of his schoolwork.



Then in March, an Almaty 14-year-old killed his friend - when he refused to lend some money for a video game.



The underage criminals include many children from problem families and children's homes. Statistics suggest 60 per cent of former inmates of the latter end up in prison shortly after leaving.



Child psychologist Natalya Fedotova said the rise in teen crime is linked to the ideological chaos that prevailed in Kazakstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The lack of an all-embracing ideology, she said, meant children no longer had any obvious or attractive goals.



"Collective education, as a remnant of the Soviet system, has lost its meaning today," she said, "and the mass culture that has come to us from the West advocates cruelty and violence."



The killings have also spotlighted the poor conditions in children's homes across the country. One problem appears to be that the youngsters are virtually unsupervised. Their only obligation is to go to school and little or no attention is paid to their moral development.



Aidos Beijanov, a former inmate in one such home, recalled, "All we did in the home in the evenings was watch action movies on video. We thought that it would be easy to kill someone and not get punished."



Gennady Khlebnikov, another former ward who is now a mechanic, said many children are frustrated by their lack of opportunities. "I think these teenagers committed these murders because they were angry that there was no future for them once they left the home," he said.



Most ordinary people are less willing to excuse these crimes. Pensioner Aleksandr Arkhipov said they were on the rise because young people were spoilt. "Today's children don't respect themselves or their elders," he said. "It is all due to a lack of normal upbringing. They kill and don't even repent."



History teacher Svetlana Fadeeva warned that the government needed to pay far more attention to how the younger generation was growing up. "If they don't, these children will be lost to society for ever," she said.



Yuliana Zhikhor is an independent Kazakstan-based journalist.

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