By Constance Ndeleko
A juvenile delinquent in Africa is one who commits an act defined by law as illegal and/or who is adjudicated “delinquent” by an appropriate court.
Juvenile delinquency is not only increasing in Africa but it is also widespread. There is the constant fear in Africa today that delinquents may graduate to become hardened criminals of the future.
Although official government statistics in Africa do not project an alarming picture, the problem of delinquency may not be so simple.
It is impossible to state clearly how much delinquency there is in Africa. There are several reasons why very little is known about the extent or nature of delinquency in Africa: Illnesses in addition, anomalies arising from the ambiguity in the definition of juvenile or what constitutes delinquency, the varying limits of criminal responsibility in the various countries, and the “dark figures” estimation problems have all contributed to misleading statistical information on juvenile delinquency in African countries
The age of criminal responsibility varies from one country to another, and this has led to the inclusion of minors ranging in age from 8 to 21 years in the juvenile delinquency statistics. It is difficult to define categorically where juvenility ends and youthfulness begins. The conceptual problems relating to the definitions of crime and delinquency on one hand and the emergence of categories of offenders as “juvenile delinquents,” “adolescents,” “children beyond parental control,” and “children in need of care/protection” have compounded the confusion.
The way juvenile law in most African countries is enforced also affects the credibility of delinquency statistics. The erratic enforcement of juvenile legislation is primarily due to the fact that although most countries have juvenile delinquency legislation differs.
Another reason that it is difficult to know just how much delinquency exists in African countries is the fact that people tend to handle the problem of juvenile offenders themselves, without resorting to either the police or the juvenile authorities.
Rather than go to the police to bring charges, the injured citizen will go to the parents of the guilty party in order to obtain compensation, and if the parents of the minor are unknown, the offender is likely to receive a good spanking from the victim.
Numerous reasons have been suggested as feasible causes of juvenile delinquency in African countries. Among these are; rapid urbanization in the new states/towns, instability within family structure, lack of employment and educational opportunities, urban migration, the impersonality of urban life, lack of parental control, and individual maladjustment.
As noted earlier, Clifford suggested that turbulence in family relations, emotional instability, and the spread of urban culture appear to be far more important for crime and delinquency in a country than any local cultural or tribal influence. He suggested that we look to urban pressures on the family rather than to sub-cultures in our efforts to explain crime (Clifford, 1966; p. 166).
Juvenile delinquency is one of the most serious problems that need to be addressed both in developed and developing countries. It is the root for more organized and sophisticated crimes that costs society and government heavily for addressing it.
Juvenile delinquency has now become one of the important social issues which every nation tries to bring under control amidst the glaring evidence that, if the right nurturance is not given to the young offenders, they may graduate to become criminals.
Adolescent (juvenile) age offenses are acts of delinquencies or crimes that will harm individual, community and society at large and hence the urgency and importance of resolving this social problem.