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Students Involvement in Gangsterism in Malaysian Schools

Crime and violence in schools is threatening the well-being of the young people in Malaysia. Despite national’s efforts to restore a culture of learning and teaching, incidents of gangsterism, theft, vandalism, burglary, rape and even murder are reported on school grounds. In a study on “Gangsterism among Secondary Schools” by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Crime Prevention Foundation of Malaysia reported that serious misconduct exhibited by secondary schools is primarily influenced by gangsters. Gangsterism activities pose a threat to the education system and to all stages of the teaching and learning processes.

The objective of this research is to find out the 1) profile of membership of gang’s that these teenagers join: 2) profile of students who are susceptible joiners of gangs and 3) to investigate the reasons for participation. The outcome is propose suggestions to curb and curtail this social issue.

2.0 Introduction

Crime and violence in schools is threatening the well-being of the young people in Malaysia. Despite national efforts to restore a culture of learning and teaching, incidents of gangsterism, theft, vandalism, burglary, rape and even murder are reported on school grounds. Before we delve into the issue gangsterism, let’s try to make a distinction between gangs and gangsterism. Gangs are not necessarily bad but gangsterism invariably is. According to the Oxford dictionary, the term “Gangsters” can be defined as – A member of a group of violent criminals and Gangsterism can be described as the use of tactics associated with gangsters, as intimidation or violence, in order to achieve something.

The gangsterism issue in Malaysia is a hot topic as gangsterism has been reported frequently by the media in Malaysia. In a study on “gangsterism among secondary school” by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Crime Prevention Foundation of Malaysia reported that serious misconduct exhibited by secondary schools is primarily influenced by gangsters. The study also indicated that students participate in gangsterism because of the main three main factors – family, living environment and academic achievement. The Royal Malaysian Police Force on the other hand has classified students who participate in gangsterism into three categories – triad gangs, thug’s gangs and school hooligans.

Gangsterism “contaminates” the school environment and jeopardizes the educational process. There can be serious long-standing effect such as physical, emotional and psychological implications for both teachers and pupils including: distress, reduced self-esteem, risk of depression and suicide, reduced school attendance, impaired concentration, fear and a diminished ability to learn. (WHO, 1997). Not only do gangsters’ activities pose a threat to the core business of the ministry of education, but also the teaching and learning process is also hindered by such practices.

3.0 Literature Review

According to Utusan Malaysia (1998), the social phenomenon of gangsterism has shown to increase the rate of vandalism, threatening and drug addicts among the teenagers. One third of 1560 secondary school in our country, Malaysia has high risk to being exposed with ‘underground society’ (Berita Harian, 1997). By this group of teenagers who break the norms are often being categorized as a deviant and delinquent. They are often involved in drug addicting, playing truants, raping, homosexual and lesbian. Surprisingly, the number of female students and primary school students are increasingly involved in gangsterism nowadays.

As a social phenomenon, it is important to know that gangsterism is not confined merely to the lower rungs of modern society. Indeed, it occupies much of the ‘high moral ground’ and has political dimensions that reach well beyond the local neighbourhood (Buckley 2005).

According to Thrasher (1963), at the earlier stage of teenagers, they have higher tendency to form a gang. In the earlier report in 1961, Thrasher also defined gang as a group with same characteristics such as, appearance, action, conflict and planning. As a result of evolution, this group of gang will eventually develop into a group of gangster who often carries out activities that is anti-social.

On the other hand, Miller in 1980 defined a gang who carries out illegal acts. In addition, Klein & Maxson who are agreeable with Miller emphasized 3 criteria of a gang that can be concluded as being recognized negatively by society as well as the law of this country. Taylor in 1993 referred to 4 different criteria of a gang in terms of their function and activities that include their structure, leadership, territories and interaction among the group.

In addition, Haslina Hassan (2000) claims that, delinquents are often found in older males who do illegal acts outside school compound. This is in along with Bodinger-de-Uriarte (1993) who found that power and status are one of the major determinants for teenagers to join in the activities of gangsterisme in the United States of America. Gaustad (1991) found that the appearance of gangsters who had interfered the teaching and learning process in the school and affected other students’ study environment. Hence, we need to pay more attention and carry out strategies that can solve above problem, as mentioned by Lal et. al. (1993).

There are a few determinants of gangsterisme in school that includes influences from peer group, individual, family and mass media (Cindy, Tursman and Moore, 1930). According to Artwater in 1998, peer group is defined as the same age group of people who plays around, grow up together or buddy who strive together. Encyclopedia edited in 1997 defined individuals as a person who is turning into adolescents, in the age of 12 to 21 years old. Freud (1953) cited in Fontana 1981 referred family as a combination of father and mother living in house with or without any children.

Furthermore, the establishment of Multimedia Corridor (MSC) as well as few other station of television has proven its significance in the aspect of mass media towards the society (Haslina Hassan, 2000). Thraser & Lal (1993) found that the occurrence of gangsterism is often out of the sight of the teacher. Therefore, the first step to evaluate the occurrence of gangsterisme is to identify its existence.

Lal et. al (1993) showed that among gangsterisme, there are some significant differences in between the few similarity of characteristics among different gangsters that changes with time and venue. They also concluded that gangster has same ethnic, unity and shared the same vision and responsibility, including orders based on the hierarchy and identity as based to the territory of place and school. Futrell in 1996 stated that activities carried out by the gangsters in school consists of being harsh to teachers and school, in addition to threatening acts, stealing, obtaining jewelleries or money by force, speaking vulgar words and beating students.

4.0 Research Aims/Purpose of the Study

According to www.dictionary.com. A teenagers can be defined as a person between the ages of 13 and 19; an adolescent.

The objective of this research are

to find out the profile membership of gang’s that these teenagers join

to find out the profile of students who are susceptible joiners of gang

to investigate the reasons for participation

In addition, the researchers will be figuring how social influence plays a role in impacting the teenagers. Lastly, the researchers will also examine the response of communities towards gangsterism while recommending and suggesting an array of productive strategies that can engage educator, parents and communities in an effort to curb and curtail this social issue.

5.0 Methodology

In this research, the researchers have conducted in-depth interview with:

The Chief Inspector of Saujana Utama, Inspector Firdaus Azman and

3 former gangsters

Here are the questions proposed to the interviewees:

5.1. Questions for Ex-Gangsters:

At what age did you join gangsterism?

What are the things that you were involved in your days as a gangster?

To what extent were you involved in gangsterism?

What are the reasons that influenced you into joining gangsterism?

Do you consider social influence as a most important element that prompted you into joining gangsterism?

There are mainly 3 categories of gangsters in Malaysia-Triad gangs, Thug gangs and school hooligans. Which category do you identify yourself with?

Did gangsterism solve your problem(s) or was they any benefits obtained from joining gangsterism?

What were the consequences of joining gangsterism? Was there a price to pay?

How do people (non gangster) look at you as a gangster especially your family members, relatives and friends?

What made you quit gangsterism and how did you get out of gangsterism?

Are you easily accepted by the local community as an ex-gangster?

Have you regretted that you have joined gangsterism? If yes, why?

What advice do you have for teenagers nowadays, in term of staying out of gangsterism?

In your opinion, what actions should be taken in curtailing and curbing gangsterism?

5.2. Question for Policeman:

Gangsterism is widely discussed as a social issue in Malaysia. How is the current condition compared to 5 years and 10 years ago?

What is your perception(s) towards this issue?

Who are likely to get involved in gangsterism?

At what age teenagers are vulnerable or easily influenced into joining gangsterism?

Of the many gangsters who were caught by the police, what sort of background do they come from?

What are the steps taken by the authorities in curbing this issue?

What are the laws that are enacted in relation to this issue? Such as penalizing the gangsters who breached the law and regulations.

What else do you think the police force: Crime Prevention Foundation and Government could do to curb this issue?

Share with us some of your experiences in dealing with gangsters.

What are the advices you would like to convey to the younger generation who has the thought of joining gangsterism?

6.0 Findings/Results

6.1 Focus Group

There are a lot of cases involving secondary school’s students with crime such as gangsterism. The increase in the crime among them is influenced by some factors such as parents, the family, the school, the society, and the government. Therefore, in this finding we are going to focus on students who associate with negative activities such as gangsterism.

When asking about whether they have been dealt with gangsterism, most of them answered “no” and they will try to avoid from confronting them as they feel anxious that they might be hurt by the gangsters. There are a few factors that lead the students into gangsterism such as they want to be different from others, for fun, lost in the new environment and to prove that they are out of norm. Usually, the problems occur when they did not get proper upbringing, bad surroundings, family environment, and social influence.

As we know, students nowadays are different from the last time. They still respect their families and teachers. As family is the most important institution in society as it forms the communication developments in the country. However, we can see most of parents are busy working to fulfill their family needs such as food, clothes, tuition fees, and so on. Therefore, there are no family ties between each of member as the obsession in pursuing material gains has caused a gap between them. As a result, some members suffer from emptiness in life and this may lead to more serious social problems as they try to seek love and entertainment outside their house.

As for solution, there are a few effective ways in curbing the problems:

The school, police and parents need to work hand-in-hand with each other.

The schools’ authority should take an action against the gangsters and should not be afraid of putting a risk of the reputation of their school.

The parents should play their role in loving their children by giving attention to their children’s emotion rather than satisfying their material needs.

Schools and community should organize some interesting and healthy activities for students to have a healthy lifestyle.

Schools should recruit a team of counselor and not ordinary teachers to cater this matter.

Majority of the students agreed that ex-gangsterism should be given a chance in the society. This is due to the fact that students need guidance and support as it is time for them to find and develop their own identity and determine their goals in life. Therefore it is important for teachers and parents to co-operate in developing their children psychological needs.

6.2. Ex-gangsters

6.3.I Thilagan (not the real name), 21 years old, College student

Thilagan was a prominent school hooligan in Cheras area. Gangsterism took over his life at the age of 15: while he was studying in form 3. During form 3, most of his friends became gangsters and his academic achievement was also down the drain. His parents constantly scorn, despise and insult him by naming him “stupid” and “idiot”. In addition, he offended many people in secondary school. These factors prompted him into joining gangsterism.

When asked why he joined gangsterism, he replied, “9 out of 10 of my friends are gangsters. I would be left out and alienated if I don’t join them”. When asked about does social influence place a part in influencing him to join gangsterism, he nodded and agreed. “I couldn’t stand my friends’ persuasion and taunting”. He told us another reason he joined gangsterism is to gain popularity and presence in school. Thilagan identify himself with school hooligans and thug gangs.

He recalled that they were once he bashes up a schoolmate with a baseball bat for no reasons. “I did that because I want to vent out my frustration and anger in me, moreover, I am a gangster and I have the privilege to do that”. He told us he is able to do anything after he joins gangsterism. That is a form of satisfaction and self-gratification beneath (gangsterism). However, he fears walking alone without his gangster friends on the street. “I you are walking alone, you are easily targeted by gangster from other territory”. He considered this and the consequences of joining gangsterism.

He quit gangsterism in 2003 and since then, he has never thought of walking back the same path. “I quit gangsterism because I feel it is time to quit”. He said that joining gangsterism has wasted many years of his life. After wasting so many years, he told us it is time to turn over a new leaf and think of the future. Never the less, he also considered himself very fortunate to have quitted gangsterism without paying any compensation.

He agreed that gangsterism contaminates the school environment and his advice for juvenile and teenagers is to choose the right friends. He also commented that school should promote more healthy activities. “If we are busy, we don’t have the time for such nonsense such as gangsterism”. He pointed out the National Service is the good ways to expose the teenagers in various activities. He also thinks that the Crime Prevention Foundation should be more active in imparting knowledge about the severity of this social issue.

6.2.2) Nicholas (not the real name), 25 years old, Hair stylist

Our second interviewee who called himself an “educated gangster” is currently working as a hairstylist in Kuala Lumpur. He joined gangsterism in 1996 when he was 16 years old. Nicholas come from an upper middle class family and he said that the lack of understanding from family members and academic achievement have influenced him into joining gangsterism. “I love to draw and cut people. I am interested in hair style and fashion design but sadly my family didn’t understand and they even look down at me”. During that depression, he got to know new friends who are gangsters. He said that, they were the ones who listened to him and helped him gained confidence in life. He said his friends who are gangsters were supportive of him of being hair stylist. After knowing them for few months, he decided to join their gang and began stepping on the wrong path.

He considered himself as school hooligan. “I was an “Educated Gangster” meaning, I don’t offend other people or look for trouble”, he said. The main reason he joined gangsterism is to gain popularity in school and gain confidence in life. “I want to stand out: I want the whole secondary school students to know who I am”. However he added that he feels vulnerable when walking alone in school or on the streets.

He decided to quit gangsterism at the age of 17, after he was flunked out by his secondary school. “I don’t want to be viewed as a failure; especially I don’t want my family and relatives look down on me”. However, he didn’t regret joining gangsterism because he gained another real life experience which money can’t buy.

He agrees that gangsterism contaminates the learning environment in schools and he thinks that school should encourage more participants in co-curriculum activities. He also added that there should be more co-curriculum activities for students to participate in. As for the individual, his advice for teenagers is to stay away from bad company and e strong in will against bad influence.

6.2.3 Kelvin (not the real name), 21 years old

Kelvin is a former gangster who is currently working as a writer at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. He earns a wage of just enough support for his family. Kelvin was exposed to gangsterism at the age of 13 when he first set foot into secondary school. His teenage life was surrounded by rage and violence with influence of gangsterism.

When he first stepped into form 1, Kelvin was the target for bullies in his school because he was known as Indian that could not speak Tamil. The Indian gangsters found this to be insulting and always use that as an excuse to bully him. Several months later, he was compelled to join a gang in order to protect himself. From then onwards, Kelvin fully associated himself with the gang; and was involved in gang fights. To gain protection, Kelvin paid RM18 monthly as protection fee to his gang leader. As time goes by, he slowly began to enjoy and indulge in the deleterious activities. Not only Kelvin found out that being a gangster has the privilege to vent out his frustration and anger but most importantly the Indian gangsters are afraid to bully him.

In year 2000, Kelvin sunk deeper into gangsterism and turned out to be one of the most infamous gangsters known in Sunway area. Furthermore, he was also involved in the racial friction that happened between Malays and Indians at Kampung Medan in 2001. Soon after, Kelvin involved himself into several drug dealing cases. Kelvin identified himself as a thug because these activities were carried out even after he left the secondary school.

Talking about how the parents and relatives viewed him as a gangster, he said that he was not accepted by his family and community and therefore the gang was his only companion.

The turning point in Kelvin’s life happened when his parents were cheated by a businessman and there was nothing that they could do about it. Their life became a misery as they were facing financial problems. At that period of time, Kelvin spent most of his money buying drugs and alcohol. One day, he finally realized that he could not continue to live the life of a thug as he needs to bear the responsibility of taking care of the family. This turning point has made Kelvin changed for good and strived for a decent job. Kelvin says “once you pick up the knife, it’s really hard to put it down”. He advised the teenage gangsters to quit gangsterism as soon as possible.

However, he is now working as a writer in a hotel and a part time coach for a football team. He unquestionably regretted making the decision to join gangsterism and said that it was gangsterism that ruined his life. He advised the teenagers nowadays to be active in activities co-curriculum and social activities and ended the interview by saying family plays a vital role in a teenager’s progress in life.

6.2.4 Policeman, Chief Inspector Firdaus Azman

Mr. Firdaus began the interview by telling us that the condition of gangsterism in Malaysia is getting better compared to 5 to 10 years ago. This can be backed by the statistics in Youth Quake where it is said the “42 cases of gangsterism in schools were reported in 2002, 25 in cases in 2003 and 27 cases up to March 31st this year” (Youth Quake 2005). Mr. Firdaus added that the increase of job opportunities and a better living environment has contributed to the declining rate of gangsterism. He also added that the most cases can be found in cities such as Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Johor Bahru.

He said that gangsterism is not a new topic in Malaysia. He explained that gangsterism is the outcome of social circumstances such as economic depression and unemployment. However, he said that the gangsterism among the teenagers is still controllable. “The teenagers are mostly school hooligans.” The activities associated to school hooligans are collecting protection fees, extortion, bullying etc.

When asked who are more likely to be involved in gangsterism, his replied as follow:

There is no specific age group; those with family problems such as divorced parents and arguments in the family as it indirectly puts aside the child’s welfare.

Peer pressure. Teenagers are most vulnerable into being influenced when they face problems in their lives as their weaknesses are easily seen thus being a “prey” for the gangsters.

Gangsters may not be those who are weak and poor, the materially well-off ones can also be involved in gangsterism just to show off.

The researchers asked Inspector Firdaus on what are the ways taken by the authorities in curbing this issue and the followings were his replies:

The police forces in Kuala Selangor have been working hand-in-hand with several secondary schools in curbing gangsterism. “I will pay a visit to the secondary schools and speak face-to-face with the problematic school hooligans and give them proper counseling.”

In addition, he said the society should not put everything on the shoulders of the police but work hand-in-hand with them to curb the issue. Parents play the most important role compared to other authorities as teenagers only spent about 6 hours at school while the rest are spent at home. He added by saying parents should not only concentrate on satisfying the material needs and wants of their children but lay more emphasis on spending more quality time as a family with them instead.

The laws enacted related to this issue are the Emergency Ordinance and the Penal Code (Act574). Emergency Ordinance is an ordinance where detention is made without trial. Activities such as murder, robbery, rioting and forcing injury are of those can be placed under this ordinance. If the police felt that the case is strong against the suspect, they will submit the case to the ministry and awaits the order from the ministry to detent the suspect. Therefore, he urged the victims of gangsterism should stand out and testifies against the suspect and added the police force need the full co-operation of the public in order to bring the gangsters to justice.

His worst case in dealing with gangsterism was a gang fight between 2 groups of prominent gang in Klang back in 2001. Teenagers with the age of 16 to 17 are involved in this scuffle and 3 of them were killed. Being only teenagers they were very violent. “That incident was one of the most dangerous fight as it involved many people”, said Inspector Firdaus. The authorities were alerted about the fight, but by the time they reached the place some had run away. Fortunately, the authorities managed to reprimand several suspects who were believed to participate in the gang fight.

Mr. Firdaus’s advice to those who have the thought of joining gangsterism not to try to get the taste of it, do not mix with bad hats, participate more in school activities and do not give in if being approached by gangsters. “As for those who do have problem, do find a friend or teacher to talk to, having a listening party is good as they could offer help from their friends or teachers, will undoubtedly reduce the possibility of a teenager to become a gangster as their problem can be detected immediately

Mr. Firdaus ended the interview the session by emphasizing that teenagers should not be afraid to approach the police when being confronted, perturbed and harassed by gangster as the authorities will do their best in making sure that the victims are safe.

7.0 Conclusion

Most of us understand gangsterism is detrimental to us and yet teenagers still make the decision to join. Why? According to our focus group interview, all participants form negative impression about gangsterism; it is evidently people tend to associate criminal acts misconduct, extortion etc. with gangsterism; but what is the internal physiological process that prompted individuals into joining gangsterism? It the individual differences that make them join the gangsterism, or the situational factors? We as human being constantly commit the fundamental attribution error and under estimate the external factor; the same thing goes in forming schemas and perception about gangsterism.

In this research, it is evident that teenagers joined gangsterism because of situational factor. Teenagers joined gangsterism when they are in need of something; it could be money, confidence, recognition and even a girlfriend. Therefore parents should play an important role in understanding what are the wants and the needs of their children; both materially and psychologically. Therefore a healthy and close bond family relationship can prevent teenagers from joining gangsterism.

In addition, it is no doubt that the media plays a complex and ambivalent role in the characterization and propagation of gangs. They may not be proven, identifiable causal link between violence in the media and real act of carnage perpetrated by disaffected youth, but many people believe that there is. Hence, there is a need for teenagers to understand that there is a clear distinction between depiction of gangsterism by the media and the gangsterism in the real world and the media should also educate the viewers that being a gangster does not give you the privilege to do whatever you want.

Finally, as a conclusion, we believe that anyone could be influenced into joining gangsterism due to family factor, living environment factor, psychological factor and the most importantly social influence.

8.0 Critical Analysis in Light of Sociological Perspectives

Sociologists portray modern gangs as the outcome of certain social circumstances such as unemployment, poverty and lack of self-esteem, which is a controversial and disputable statement. They operate as mini-communities with their own hierarchies and create a sense of belonging amongst young in particular. To solve the problem of gangs, the Functionalist has point out that every part of the society should play their part effectively to ensure that teenagers are well monitored and guided so that later they can function well in the society. The functionalist sees school as teaching the kind of cognitive skills and norms and will later produce independent adults that serve the society. We must find solutions to the socio-economic problems of our society (Buckley 2005).

9.0 Opinion or Comment

Gangsterism should not be allowed to develop at the first place. By taking early preventive measures such crime can be reduced. There are several approaches and ways to curb this issue. Firstly, the researchers suggest that the secondary schools should enforce a rule whereby every student is compulsory to join a minimum of one co-curriculum activity. This can serve as a prevention to stop students from becoming gangsters.

Secondly, Police Cadet should also be implemented throughout the secondary schools in Malaysia to work hand in hand with the police force. The Police Cadet is seen as a force that reduces the increasing discipline problems and social ill among the primary and secondary schools and the movement should be enforced at least throughout the major schools in urban areas.

Finally parenting skills must be done. Community empowerment projects such as parent workshop should be organized to educate the parent on how to communicate effectively with their children in any circumstances. Parents must be trained as counselors and also people in the community must also be trained as counselors to help troubled teenagers.

Photos taken during the interview

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