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A police officer displays a pistol recovered from criminals in Nairobi. /CFM-FILE.

Fifth Estate

We must get weapons from the hands of youth

If you live in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyeri or even Kakamega, chances are, at some point, you or people known to you have been accosted and robbed of money or some valuables.

What is more traumatizing is how such young people, the majority of whom are barely 18 years old, offhandedly brandish crude weapons, and even guns, in your face. In many instances, the victims are hard pressed between two daggers aimed at the ribs almost to the point of puncturing the soft intercostal spaces. Resistance or shouting for help is futile, and fairly so, as the delinquents react at the slightest hesitation with no second thought if a person lives or dies.

Statistics from the National Crime and Research Centre (NCRC) show that this trend is increasingly becoming a new norm in urban areas and reflects a definitive change in crime patterns, structure and dynamics in the country.

In a report titled “Youth Perspectives on Crime”, approximately 57 percent of crimes reported to the National Police Service in Kenya are perpetrated by youth aged between 16-25 years, a majority of whom are thieves who use guns, knives and pangas to murder, maim and mete violence on innocent victims.

Women top the list of these victims, with rape and defilement cases also identified as ancillary crimes. However, business persons, children, fellow youth and wealthy people are also potential targets.

Consequently, the youth represent close to half of the inmate population in Kenya prisons. In 2018, 39,870 youth aged between 18-25 years added to the total 80,404 felons convicted and sentenced to prison.

NCRC further established that poverty and ignorance are the biggest contributory factor to this trend. In fact, this particular generation of ‘criminal youth’ is the poorest and among the most ignorant groups in the country.

Lack of employment opportunities coupled with a life of hardship and peer pressure consequently induce the youth to retreat to abusing alcohol and other hard drugs, which gradually push them to criminal influences. It is, therefore, of no surprise to regularly find youth in police cells and courtrooms facing drug charges – the second most crime committed by youth – or booked for drunk and disorderly conduct.

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All is not lost, though, as it is the deficiency in legitimate money-making opportunities that marginalizes the youth from the society and makes them synonymous with crime. The youth primarily seek activities with economic prospects indicating that providing access to economic empowerment would reduce the youth’s adverse association with the National Police Service, the Judiciary, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, the Kenya Prisons department, and Probation and Aftercare Services.

To take away the weapons from the hands of these youth, security agencies and other stakeholders must prioritize replacing them with decent jobs or legitimate income-generating activities for this productive population. The Kazi Mtaani programme is just but one of those interventions that can be tailored and expanded to address the immediate needs of the thousands of young people in the country. In the short term, 283,000 youth are earning Kshs. 455 daily, and this has provided substantive evidence of a reduction in youth crime as reported in the news in the urban centers of Eldoret, Nairobi, Nanyuki, Athi River, Mombasa and Lamu. More needs to be done at the policy level.

The author is a Master of Research and Public Policy Postgraduate student.

University of Nairobi

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