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Getting to grips with gangs

The gang culture is
causing multiple
issues; (below left)
Nazir Afzal and (right)
Tarique Ghaffur
WORRYING TIMES: The gang culture is causing multiple issues; (below left) Nazir Afzal and (right) Tarique Ghaffur

by NADEEM BADSHAH CONCERNS OVER ASIAN COMMUNITY’S ‘FAILURE’ TO DEAL WITH RISING PROBLEM ASIAN community leaders are failing to tackle the growing trend of children being lured by gangs, ac­cording to one of Britain’s leading crime fighters. Nazir Afzal, former chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said “there is a significant issue around drug-related crime in the Asian community” but families are not speaking with their sons and daughters about the dangers. Afzal said around one in 10 Muslim prisoners is serving sentences for drug-related offences in the UK. It comes after Barnado’s, the UK’s biggest chil­dren’s charity, said it is seeing more cases of young people at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation. Nearly 60 per cent of Barnardo’s services describe supporting a young person involved in crime in the past year. Among those, nearly three quarters believe the young person was coerced, deceived or manipu­lated by others into criminal activity. More than 60 per cent said kids who were crimi­nally-exploited were also the victims of sexual abuse. Afzal told Eastern Eye: “It crosses communities, grooming for sex, organised crime, and ideology are the same issue; it’s manipulation of young people. “It’s not talked about in the Asian community; a victim from a white British family is more likely to seek help and be identified. “Young Asian people don’t get the level of sup­port, they don’t discuss it with their family and groomers are empowered. “It won’t go away until those in the community have difficult conversations with families and show them the way out of criminality. “Influential community members have to take it more seriously; it’s everyone’s responsibility.” Barnado’s report also found some young victims are forced to carry weapons, carry and sell drugs, go missing, and end up in other parts of the country on the orders of gang leaders. Home secretary Sajid Javid said more than 30,000 kids aged 10-15 are estimated to be members of gangs. Afzal believes most schoolboys and schoolgirls involved in criminal lifestyles are being blackmailed. “They are typically groomed with lower-level crime initially, then blackmailed into more serious crime. They are very calculated and malicious; fami­lies don’t understand the issues. “For a small minority, it is about identity to be part of a gang, being appreciated and recognised, where­as for the majority they are victims. “There are several grassroots, small south Asian-women-led organisations working with families, identifying young people at risk, meeting their aspi­rations and ambitions so they don’t get trapped.” He added: “We [Asian community] don’t want to deal with criminality in our midst; we turn a blind eye. Families are not solely responsible for criminal­ity, but no conversation is going on about it. “We won’t talk about sex, sex abuse or organised crime, it’s a dereliction of leadership.” Barnardo’s is calling for agencies, including the police, education, health and social care, to work together on a joint approach that recognises the long-term nature of the abuse, exploitation and trauma these children suffer. Its chief executive Javed Khan said among its schemes to tackle the trend is the YouTurn service delivering gang and knife crime prevention work in schools across south London. Also Boys 2 Young People, identifying boys and men who have experienced abuse and trauma, and who may be at risk of developing harmful sexual behaviour or being criminally exploited. Khan told Eastern Eye these young people must not be criminalised but treated as victims first and given long-term specialist support to help them recover. “Our frontline services are identifying an emerg­ing, shocking trend of child criminal exploitation, particularly through county lines activity where chil­dren are coerced or manipulated by organised gangs. “The government’s Serious Violence Strategy talks about identifying children at risk early and interven­ing – we urgently need to make this a priority. “We need more focus on working with families and communities to tackle the root causes of their vulnerability which gangs are using to exploit. “We will continue to work with our UK-wide ser­vices to identify how best to respond to this emerging issue and will share our findings with government. We will also use the Serious Violence Strategy as a way to advise the government what needs to change to safeguard young people across the country.” Tarique Ghaffur CBE is a former assistant com­missioner for the Metropolitan Police. He said it was “regretful” that a leading charity like Barnado’s has to become a frontline organisation to take care of vulnerable young people. Ghaffur added: “A lot of these children are brought up in families who live chaotic lifestyles within com­plex community make-up. “Early risk-based intervention by professionals, such as neighbourhood-based police and social workers, is fast disappearing, and diversion through community-based youth activities is non-existent. “The vulnerable youth then fall into the hands of the abusers and criminal role models. Government and local authorities need to wake up and spend more time, effort and money on prevention, diversion and building successful future for our young people.” In June, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said families of gang members who are living in council housing should have those homes taken away from them in order to deter the criminals. She backed a scheme being trialled in north London that threat­ens entire families in council homes with eviction. She said: “In the most serious cases, with these people who are exploiting young people, making the lives of local residents a misery, putting fear into peo­ple’s hearts when they’re picking children up from the school gates, I think absolutely they should under­stand the consequences of their criminal behaviour.”

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