DUBAI // More than 70 per cent of young offenders come from families where both mother and father are still alive and married, according to government research that challenges the long-held stereotypes of juvenile criminals.
Children whose parents are divorced account for just 13 per cent of juvenile offences in Dubai, according to research and field work by the Community Development Authority. Children who have lost a father account for a further 9 per cent while orphans, children without mothers, and those from polygamous families account for the rest.
The authority says its work challenges a common assumption in UAE society that children from broken or polygamous families are more prone to commit crime.
“The majority of juveniles involved in crime come from what I call unified families, ie where the mother and father are married and the whole family lives in the same house,” said Bushra Qaed, head of the authority’s women, youth and children department.
“Through our work we realised the notion that children of divorced parents are more prone to crime cannot be supported.”
Parental negligence and peer pressure are far bigger factors affecting children’s behaviour, says the authority.
Mrs Qaed blamed the media for spreading uneducated and ill informed views that divorce and polygamous marriages were driving children to crime.
“I tell the media to stop spreading unfounded assumptions. We are the ones who are in the field and the reality is very different from what the media want to convey,” said Mrs Qaed.
“The problem in our society is that people do not want to look at the facts but instead choose to repeat assumptions.
“That is not to say that I am not against divorce or polygamy and I do not encourage them but the reality of juvenile crime is different. On the contrary, our field observations suggest that children of divorced families are more prone to be victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of crime.”
The authority gives help to any child who has a court case registered against them. Up to September this year the authority registered 27 such children. More than half were Emirati and four were girls. Most are aged between 16 and 17 while the youngest was an 11-year-old convicted of begging.
Approximately one in four children were involved in drug cases, mainly Tramadol consumption, another quarter were accused of theft and a similar amount were accused of sex crimes including rape and consensual sex outside marriage.
About one in five juvenile criminals is a repeat offender.
“Children from divorced families are not the biggest category we deal with,” said, Badria Al Mallouhi, a social worker with the authority.
“The main reasons behind juvenile crime are parental negligence and indifference – when families are disconnected and parents do not take an interest in their children’s activities.
“Some children are given excessive liberties and are spoiled and this has a very negative impact. Others turn to crime due to peer pressure.”
The authority has launched two initiatives to help rehabilitate young offenders and prevent recidivism.
The first involves visiting the parents of juveniles in custody to help them prepare a healthy environment for the young person to return to.
It is also offering individual as well as group therapy to offenders and their families. Financial help is also offered to poor families as part of the rehabilitation programme.