Kazakstan: School Gang Violence on Rise

The authorities appear at a loss to stem a rise in teenage violence in the south of the republic.

Kazakstan: School Gang Violence on Rise

The authorities appear at a loss to stem a rise in teenage violence in the south of the republic.

Schoolteachers in South Kazakstan are being made to pay for a rise in teenage gang violence.

Twice as many murders were committed by teenagers in 2003 than last year, and education sources told IWPR that more than 10 teachers had been forced to quit their jobs because of their pupils’ crimes.

The South Kazakstan internal affairs department confirmed that teenagers committed more than 300 offences, including brawls, theft, assault and murder, between January and November 2003. Eight boys died in gang fights, and more than 30 were wounded.

The worst offenders are punished but the majority will get off lightly - but their schoolteacher might be disciplined or even sacked for failing to instil the crime prevention message during classes.

At one school where a group of pupils were involved in a number of gang fights involving the use of guns, both the class teacher in question and the deputy headmaster lost their jobs.

The decision to make heads of schools carry the main responsibility for crime prevention came after the government became alarmed by a rise in offences committed by teenagers, which began around three years ago.

Kazakstan, in common with the other former Soviet republics in the region, has very high levels of poverty.

The temptation to fall into petty or even more serious crime is therefore evident and many teenagers engage in criminal activity because they are frustrated and cannot see a better life for themselves.

Gang mentality now appears to be spreading in the poverty-stricken region, as groups of children from poorly-off families battle those from comparatively-wealthy backgrounds to gain status or respect from their peers.

As a result, the cities and larger towns are divided into specific areas, each controlled by a gang of young criminals - known as brigades - from the local school.

Clashes between brigades often turn bloody, as the groups are increasingly armed with knives and homemade firearms.

However, as gang-related violence stems from poverty and other social problems - and as there is no real deterrent for such crimes - teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to talk their young charges out of it.

And attempts by the authorities to curb the problem by holding teachers accountable for juvenile crime has done nothing to improve the situation. In fact, the number of offences has risen since this practise was introduced.

Analysts fear that the policy - far from doing good - may in fact have shifted the onus of responsibility from parents and the young people themselves, to the teachers.

The father of one teenager admitted that he told local police, “You are the authorities - so you take care of him. Personally, I will be grateful to anyone who can put my son behind bars because I am unable to deal with him myself.”

And half of the teenagers IWPR spoke to seemed to have little concern for the fact that teachers are being punished for crimes committed by their peers.

One pupil who admitted to being involved in fighting shrugged and suggested that he didn’t really care if the authorities decide to penalise a teacher for something he had done.

But some pupils are more sympathetic. “It is not the teachers who should be punished but those who commit the crimes. If there is no real punishment apart from being reported to the police, nothing will prevent you from re-offending,” said another.

While there are currently no laws that extend teachers’ responsibility for students to when they are outside school, they are nonetheless held accountable.

One teacher, who wished to stay anonymous, described this as unfair. “In cases like these, it is the parents who should be punished,” she said.

Juvenile crime prevention is an increasingly thorny subject in South Kazakstan, as many measures have been tried - such as bringing police officers into schools and obliging Teachers to take pupils to local prisons so that they can see what awaits those who break the law - are largely failed.

Anton Dosybiev is currently studying journalism in Almaty

Support our journalists