Teenage killings fuel wave of anxiety

15th December 2000 at 00:00
FRANCE. School management seen as key to controlling hard core of violent pupils, reports Jane Marshall

THE killing of the fourth teenager since the beginning of November has highlighted rising violence among the young.

Last week 300 inhabitants of Grenoble, south-east France, joined the mother of Soufiane Allouche, a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed to death, at a silent procession in tribute to the dead teenager. A 16 and 17-year-old admitted killing him, apparently because he had not turned over proceeds of drug-dealing.

On November 5 in Sarcelles, a dormitory town near Paris, a 19-year-old died after being stabbed in the lung by a gang of youths. Three days later in Evry, a suburb of the capital, a 14-year-old on his way home from a sports match was shot in the chest, apparently by supporters of a rival team in a passing car. Two boys aged 13 and 17 have been questioned about the murder.

On November 26, in a high-rise estate in Marseilles, a child shot and killed a 17-year-old after a row about a stolen scooter.

Records show about 30 murders are carried out by children every year - there were 43 in 1998, the latest figure available - but numbers sentenced for malicious wounding rose sharply from 1,379 in 1994 to 3,825 in 1998.

Educationists, sociologists, magistrates and others working with young people are worried about the rising violence.

Eric Debarbieux, professor of education at Bordeaux II university, has spent five years researching school violece. A third of primary pupils said that there was "an enormous amount or much violence in their school".

While some secondary pupils felt it was the system that was against them, primary schoolchildren reported incidents between each other - mostly fights and abuse, rather than "racketeering" which was more common at secondary school.

Debarbieux observed that, in similar schools, the size of the "hard-core" of difficult pupils could vary between one and 40 per cent of the total roll.

The clue to this huge difference lay in the school management. Problems were caused less by a nucleus of difficult teenagers than by pupils as a whole reacting against bad organisation.

Staff turnover, which is very high in the troubled region around Paris, was also an important contributory factor to violence, he said.

At Debarbieux's initiative, UNESCO - the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation - is organising the first international conference on school violence next February.

Successive French education ministers have introduced anti-violence plans for schools, tightening security - increasing support staff and strengthening links with the police especially in deprived urban areas.

Education minister Jack Lang has teamed up with towns minister Claude Bartolone to open boarding schools for children whose home life is judged to be inadequate. In October, Lang announced the creation of a new anti-violence committee to monitor problems.

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