Uptick in extreme violence as unemployment and a breakdown of moral values in society take their toll
Eight young robbers arrested last May in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. Experts blame the degradation of ethical mores in society, increasing unemployment as well as the negative influences of the Internet, mostly violent online games, for an increase in youth crime in the country.
Pham Duc Loi is considering asking his daughter to drop out of a university in Ho Chi Minh City.
His son, a student of the HCMC University of Transport, was brutally killed by some youngsters over a minor issue.
"Now I have only one child. I am afraid that I could lose her too, if she continues to live and study there."
His son, 28-year-old Pham Duc Linh, was killed just because he helped a couple, who have not been identified, who were involved in a traffic accident. Four young men aged between 16 and 21, who were also involved in the accident, blamed Linh for defending the couple and attacked him in revenge.
"I always taught him to live well with others and that a good turn deserves another. He just tried to offer some help then, but as a result"¦" Loi broke down as he spoke to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
The tragedy has grabbed headlines and prompted many people to vent their frustration, anger and fear over the brutality and inhumane act. It also highlighted the increase in violent crimes by teenagers and prompted reflections on a breakdown in social and ethical mores.
The incident happened at around 1 a.m. on December 25 when the four men accused of attacking Linh - Nguyen Van Thoi Tien, 18, Pham Vu Luan, 16, Le Tran Minh Vu, 17, and Le Chi Thao, 21, were returning from a party in Binh Duong Province and visiting HCMC's Thu Duc District.
At a section of Kha Van Can Street, a motorbike in the group crashed into the couple's bike.
A witness, identified only as H., said Linh and two friends from a nearby eatery rushed to the scene after seeing the men chasing after the couple to attack them.
The four men drove away but returned soon with stones and clubs and attacked the trio. The two friends escaped but Linh was beaten unconscious.
"One of the four men even hit his head with a stone after he collapsed," H. said.
Linh, a student at the HCMC University of Transport, was rushed to the Cho Ray Hospital where he died on December 28 because of severe brain injuries.
Thu Duc District police caught Tien at the crime scene while the three others were arrested in the following days. Police did not say whether they had contacted the couple.
Outraged readers wrote to Tuoi Tre calling for tough action against the four youth.
"If relevant agencies do not take strict measures to remove these cold-blooded thugs from the society, I am afraid that people cannot have a peaceful life and it is not strange that more and more people are not willing to help others in similar cases," said Nguyen Dinh Thanh.
Another reader, Le Truong Giang, wanted the government to tackle youth crime urgently, as an "emergency issue directly involving social stability." Any delay would be tantamount to the government being guilty of failing the people, he said.
Public concern has been rising on this issue and the police have acknowledged an increase in crimes last year.
The HCMC Police Department recorded more than 5,000 crimes last year, 20 percent of which were serious crimes. The department warned of the emergence of young criminals who are reckless, highly violent and brutal.
Nationwide, there were 37,221 crimes in 2012, a 2.67 percent increase over the previous year.
According to a report by the Ministry of Public Security released on December 13 at a conference to review social stability and order in 2012, there has been an increase in crimes caused by young people.
"Crimes caused by a degradation of moral values accounted for 82.7 percent of the murder cases," it said.
At the meeting, major general Nguyen Van Ba, deputy head of the Social Order Crimes Investigation Police Department, blamed the increase in young criminals on economic difficulties and other negative influences.
"More than 30,000 companies shut down over the past year, forcing many young people into unemployment. Moreover, drugs and unhealthy cultural products on the Internet have altered their thinking and behavior, leading to increased crime committed by the youth," he said.
Amidst the rising clamor over youth crimes since the beginning of last year, one lawmaker has proposed that the age of full legal liability be lowered from the current 18 years to 16.
At a National Assembly session last November, Ho Trong Ngu, deputy chairman of the parliamentary National Defense and Security Committee, said there are between 16,000 and 18,000 people under 18 years old committing crimes every year, accounting for between 15-18 percent of the total number of criminals. Many of the crimes committed by the under-18 are serious, like murder, rape and robbery.
"It is really worrying that they do not face strict punishment for dangerous crimes. It makes young people disregard the laws.
"People are frustrated and say that the government is being lenient. Many constituents say the Penal Code's punishment (regime) is creating space for teenagers to commit crimes," he said.
"Considering people who are 16 years old as adults will give them more rights in solving social issues as well."
Ngu said 16-year-old youth of current generations develop faster and become mature earlier than in the past decades and they should not be "hampered" by the legal liability threshold.
However, many experts have said Ngu's proposal and similar measures deal with symptoms and not the root causes of the problem.
"Many theories have concurred that there are three factors that enhance or restrain the motivation to commit crime among the youth - family, school and society," HCMC-based criminologist Hoang Vinh told Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (HCMC law) newspaper in an interview.
Hoang Ba Thinh, director of the Hanoi-based Institute for Population Research and Social Work, also stressed the family role in preventing youth crimes.
"Most young criminals are born to parents who pay little or no attention to them and are indifferent to what they do, who their friends are and their abnormal behavior in daily life," he told Vietweek.
Thinh said 80 percent of teenage criminals have parents who are either divorced, criminals or gamblers; or exposed to domestic violence.
Lacking the family's attention, the children can be easily attracted and inured to violence and crime by several factors such as drug abuse and negative impacts of the Internet, he said.
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