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Youth Crime and Casual Childbearing

Comment
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Youth Crime and Casual Childbearing

One of the reasons for the increasing ferocity of youth crime is the breakdown of the family and the dysfunction of relationships within what is left of the family. The most obvious changed aspect of today's families is the absent father. That alone does not produce delinquent youths but a lack of a strong male role model starts a child off in a position of disadvantage. Some children have fathers who they would probably be better off without, and the same can be said for mothers. But the sort of family that is best placed to raise a secure and self-respecting teenager has been steadily eroded by welfare benefits that accrue to broken or incomplete families.

During the 40s, 50s and 60s youth crime was much more infrequent and less violent than it is today. Although many teenagers then had lost a father to war or desertion, they were not raised on a diet of welfare or fed an entitlement mentality. Their mothers received some assistance but many worked and instilled the need to work in their children.

In the 70s this began to change. Babies began being born to women who had no intention of raising them with a partner. Women who, if they thought about it, believed they could do just as good a job as the two parent, working family so long as the government paid them to stay home and parent. Many did.

But a growing group did not. As the negative consequences for unmarried birth disappeared the casual approach to childbearing grew. As more focus fell on ex-nuptial births, surveys revealed these children were more at risk of being abused or neglected. Abused and neglected children have far greater potential for becoming criminals.

Unmarried births now account for 45 percent of all births. Some of these babies will be born into enduring de facto relationships but those circumstances are reasonably rare.

Today's youth workers say that the solution to youth crime is for children to have a quality relationship with an adult or adults. But which relationship is the most predominant in a child's life? The one he has with his mother and/or father, which begins at birth. The chances of that
relationship being strong or even existing are reduced by casual childbearing. And casual childbearing is directly related to the elimination of negative consequences. In fact, receiving a steady and guaranteed income from the government is seen as a positive consequence.

Add to this that very young maternal age is shown to further increase a child's risk of becoming a criminal. Yet an income which surpasses the minimum wage is paid to girls as young as 16 who decide to continue with a pregnancy. Half of those young mothers aged 16 and 17 and receiving welfare are typically Maori. Half of our prison population is Maori. This is more than a coincidence but a blind eye is effectively turned by government who make no attempt to research an association.

Because the stream of teenage and un-partnered mothers going onto benefits long-term is steady, even growing slightly, New Zealand can expect the sort of youth violence we are seeing now to continue unabated. In that respect the new plans to fight youth crime are too little too late. Our leaders need to start talking about the prevention of casual childbearing and the removal of those incentives which cause it. Anything else is avoidance of the real issue and political expediency.

ENDS

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