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‘Some gang members are as young as eight’

WANTS REAL ACTION: Junior Smart, Dr Toyin Idowu and Colin James

WE NEED less talk and more real action to tackle root causes that push children as young as eight-years-old, youth workers have said.

Reacting to data presented at a gang summit at London’s City Hall on June 2, they said it was time to act to save more young lives.

Their call followed statistics from a report that showed nearly 1,000 young people under 25 were stabbed or shot last year.

The report, called Strategic Ambitions for London: Gangs and Serious Youth Violence, said 850 youths had knife wounds and 123 had gunshots when paramedics saw them.

The conference was held just hours after an 18-year-old was fatally stabbed during a brawl in Sydenham, southeast London.

Police arrested four teenagers, including a 13-year-old, over the murder.

“People are dying,” said Dr Toyin Idowu, founder and director of Youth Against Crime not Crime Against Youth. “There is too much political talk and not enough action,” she told The Voice.

“We need to just stop just ticking boxes…I need to see outcomes.”

Gang mediator Colin James from youth charity Gangs Unite and St Giles Trust’s Junior Smart, whose SOS project helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society, agreed.

REPEAT

James told The Voice: “It’s the same old, same old. We’ve heard this before and I don’t think anything will come to light from this meeting.”

Smart, who gave a presentation on the changing landscape of gangs in London, said communities need real action especially amid disturbing trends which show gangs were recruiting members as young as eight years old.

Rising drug use and mental health problems were also an issue among young people and increasing numbers of girls were “at risk of sexual exploitation,” Smart said.

Around 23 per cent of girls and four per cent of young men have reported being victims of sexual violence or exploitation within or by gangs, research found.

During the summit, police said they reduced gang crime by 23 per cent last year but challenges remained with data showing there were 3,495 gang members in London in 224 gangs. Smart, James and Idowu said officials could achieve more by also tackling social and economic deprivation that often derail young people.

“It cannot be a quick fix [but] what we need is a tailor-made, holistic approach; it needs to be joined up. Government officials need to make sure it’s adequately funded,” said Smart.

James added: “We need to listen to people who are on the ground.”

Idowu said the UK should adopt the Ceasefire approach pioneered by Professor David Kennedy from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The multi-agency approach advocates targeting group dynamics rather than individual gang members and has been used to cut gang crime in US city, Boston.

Speaking after the summit, London mayor Boris Johnson said: “London has turned a corner with gang crime and serious youth violence down in the capital but I recognise we have more to do.

“This is about taking a nose to tail approach - not just looking at an endgame, with young people already involved in criminality and the criminal justice system.

“It is working to ensure they are not drawn into gang culture in the first place and make it easier to leave when they are already involved.”

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