Juvenile Justice

Poverty is painful enough when you’re an adult, but when you’re a child it’s intolerable. I first became aware of street children when my wife and I moved to Cape Town, and I embarked on a masters degree which looked into the roots of poverty under apartheid. It turned into an investigation into the destruction of the extended families of people of colour under the Group Areas Act, cruel legislation that separated the residential areas according to peoples’ skin colour. I likened it to the racial unscrambling of an omelet.

As families were moved and broken up, children were flushed into the streets of the hard new racial ghettoes. In this was the origin of massive gang formation. Children created surrogate families.

I wrote The Brotherhoods: State Control and Street Gangs in Cape Town, a book still used extensively in school and university teaching. Ten years later Gangs, Rituals and Rites of Passage followed, a book which formed the basis of a rites of passage programme with high-risk youngsters, Usiko, of which I am a founding trustee. Have a look at www.usiko.org.za/m-people.htm

I was also one of the principal drafters of an extensive study, Juvenile Justice, which began the process of legal transformation and ended in the Child Justice Act, innovative legislation which has altered the way in which the state deals with young people in trouble with the law.