The increase in juvenile delinquency has become a world-wide phenomenon, especially in many developed countries. This trend is also evident in cities like Hong Kong and can be seen in a recent report which asserts that the age of juvenile offenders in Kong is getting younger. This study by Pang (2008) states that, "Some juvenile delinquents are now as young as 10 and 11..." (Pang, 2008).
According to the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, another disturbing indication of the increase in youth crime was the number of crimes committed by young females, which increased in 2006. "The young girls, mostly aged 13 to 14, usually like to commit crimes with their friends, like stealing accessories or cosmetics"..." ( Pang, 2008). Furthermore, this study notes that there was a thirteen percent increase in crimes committed by children between the ages of twelve and thirteen during 2008. This trend is supported by the fact that, "...the overall number of cases handled by its teenage crime counseling service, or its youth- support scheme, in the three areas rose to 790 & #8230; up 4% from 2006" ( Pang, 2008).
In general terms however, it has been found that Hong Kong has comparatively low levels of crime. Broadhurst (2000) states that, "The general consensus is that Hong Kong has a comparatively low level of crime and indeed this fact is frequently stressed in tourism and other promotions of the city" (Broadhurst, 2000). One of the reasons for this is that the fifth United Nations Criminal Justice System [UNCJS] survey has ranked Hong Kong the sixth highest police to population rate at 640 police per 100,000 people (Broadhurst, 2000). In addition there is also a comparatively large private security industry in the city (Broadhurst, 2000). In spite of these positive aspects there is an increase in juvenile offences, which leads to the theoretical interpretations and reasons for this situation.
Causative Factors and Differential Association Theory
One of the reasons given for the relatively high rate of juvenile offences in Hong Kong is that these offences are often linked to patterns of socialization and experience at an early age. This in turn has been linked to social phenomena such as the relatively high incidence of bullying at schools (Wong, 2004, p. 537). Studies indicate the school conflicts that remain unresolved and school bullying often act as a precursor to juvenile offences and violent behavior later in the life of the adolescent (Wong, 2004, p. 537).
This phenomenon has been positively linked to the increase in violent crime among juvenile offenders in Hong Kong. Wong (2004) found that in 2001 violent crimes in Hong Kong accounted for 26.7% of the total juvenile crimes in the seven to fifteen year age group (Wong, 2004, p. 538). This was a higher figure than the sixteen to twenty year age group; where the percentages of violent crimes were considerably lower (Wong, 2004, p. 538). This has in turn been linked to the high incidence of bullying at schools.
These findings tend to coincide with various criminological theories such as differential association theory, which is associated with Edwin Sutherland. This theory refers to criminal behavior as learned by the individual and that deviant forms of behavior are not essentially intrinsic to human nature. The emphasis in this theory is on learned patterns and justifications for certain types of behavior.
In this theory Sutherland argues that criminal behavior is learned in exactly the same way that other formed of behavior are taught (Walters, 2010). Fundamental to this theory of criminal behavior is that learning occurs in the interaction between groups and individuals via symbols and ideas. Deviant behavior occurs therefore when these ideas and symbols refer to criminal or delinquent behavior in a favorable rather than an unfavorable light (Wong, 2004, p. 538).
In essence, this theory is based on the basic premise that the main causes of crime are social, or rather that crime results from the way that the social context impacts and influences the individual. This theory therefore differs from more conventional psychological and biological theories of criminal behavior. In other words, Sutherland rejects causative views of crime based on biological determinism and individual psychological theories. This view also rejects purely economic explanations of the causes of crime (Edwin H. Sutherland: Differential Association Theory).
The theory is founded on two fundamental assumptions. These are that, "… deviance occurs when people define a certain human situation as an appropriate occasion for violating social norms or criminal laws" and secondly that ".... definitions of the situation are acquired through an individual's history of past experience" (Edwin H. Sutherland: Differential Association Theory). As such, this theory emphasizes the social-psychological dimensions of criminal behavior and the way that people perceive themselves subjectively ( Walters, 2010). The two cardinal aspects that are emphasized are juvenile crime as a result of social learning and the association of this form of behavior with positive and approved social and peer perceptions
Differential association theory seems to be particularly helpful in understanding the increase in juvenile delinquency in Hong Kong. From the literature it is emphasized that social factors such as bullying, peer influence and home life all play an important in juvenile crime in this area. As has been referred to above, the increasing prevalence of bullying among young people schools in the city can be seen as a precursor to patterns of juvenile crime that can be linked to associative aspects. Bullying may be viewed by some individuals or groups of individuals in a favorable light in terms of social associations. Another important link to the theory of differential association is the view that bullying, as well as other forms of juvenile delinquent behavior, is considered essentially as the result of a learned and socialized process.
Importantly, there are studies which link bullying to the interaction between various social factors. These include various conditions which tend to favor the encouragement of bullying and other factors, which affect the spread of this form of behavior. (Wong, 2004, p. 539).These include factors such as strain at school, peer and mass media influences and psychosocial conditions of the bully or victim that are crucial social determinants of bullying (Wong, 2004, p. 538).
In terms of the theory differential association, bullying serves as an example of the way in which juvenile delinquency is fostered and promoted by social factors and by the social context and environment. Furthermore, this also reinforces the view that juvenile patterns of behavior are learned and not essentially the result of biological or other factors.
Solutions and Strategies
The following analysis of youth in Hong Kong tends to view delinquent behavior and crimes in this demographic as being linked to learned behavior patterns. This refers to as circular process of learning that begins in early childhood.
It begins when a child learns violent acts from his or her parents or from the immediate environment during the childhood stage. In addition, it appears that violence values are easily acquired through violent films, song lyrics, and computer games. If a child spends a great deal of time with these media and the cyber world (the Internet), the message of violence is reinforced.
(Wong, 2004, p. 544)
This process in turn leads to association with peers from similar backgrounds who support and encourage acts of delinquency. This can develop in the teenage years into subcultures which accept and promote various forms of delinquent behavior. These in turn "… weaken their family attachment and school commitment and develop a stronger association with delinquent peers. At the same time, they internalize the violent values of their style of living" (Wong, 2004, p. 544).
The above description provides some important pointers with regard to the possibility of breaking the cycle of delinquent behavior. As differential association theory suggests, delinquent behavior is a learned process and, as such, it can be reversed or prevented by learning new patterns of behavior and by making different associations in social life. Prevention or reversal of delinquent behavior would therefore include the inculcation of new patterns of learning, which would include aspects that promote the inculcation of positive factors, such as the improved interaction at home and school. .
In this regard, in a study on delinquency among school children in Hong Kong, Capage ( 2008) found that there are central social aspects that contribute to the learning of negative behavior patterns and delinquency which can be remedied. These include the following findings:
Parents don't spend enough time with children
Parents are working. Child is left in the house with the nanny.
Parents (and extended family members) spoil their children
Parents often shower their children with anything they think that could compensate for time. & #8230; Many of them don't know what's going on while they are not with their children.
Parents abuse their children
Existing laws may not have enough teeth to reduce juvenile delinquency.