Muscat: Juvenile crime is increasing in Oman, with children involved in drugs sales, cyber bullying and even human trafficking, according to officials.
Cyber crime among juveniles is also increasing in the Sultanate, prompting officials to roll out a series of educational programmes designed to nip the growing menace in the bud, according to the Juvenile Affairs Department.
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Last year, 506 juvenile delinquents were registered for various offences – some of those offences more commonly associated with adult, career criminals.
In 2014, 423 young people under the age of 18 found themselves on the wrong side of the law, according to data from the Juvenile Affairs Department at the Ministry of Social Development.
Experts, however, blame social media for the 20 per cent increase and have been busy tackling the issue.
“We are expecting a decrease in the number of juveniles in 2016 as we are raising awareness to let people know that whatever is sent by them through smart phones can be used against them,” Mohammed Salim Al Nomani, an official at the Juveniles Affairs Department, said, adding that cyber crimes among children includes the use of offensive language and harassment.
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“Parents of rich families spoil their children with money so they get into drugs, while the underprivileged parents promise their children stuff they can’t get, so they ultimately end up stealing other people’s stuff,” Al Nomani explained.
He said that children need quality time with their moms and dads, not just materials. There is no distinction in the data of detentions between children of rich families and the less fortunate ones in the juvenile centre.
While the most common offence among juveniles is theft, followed by assault, cyber crimes are on the rise and threatened to overtake both, according to Al Nomani.
Indecent acts came fourth, traffic violations fifth, and lastly murder. Crimes committed by under-18 boys include human trafficking, smuggling drugs and cars, stealing sheep, bicycles and vehicles, Al Nomani said.
Recently, the Juvenile Affairs Department launched a programme to train juveniles for the work market.
“We train them to work in mechanics, oil, and administrative sectors,” he added.
In 2010, around 880 children were recorded as juvenile delinquents in the Sultanate.
Since then, the number has been decreasing gradually to reach 423 in 2014.
In 2015, 481 of those detained were boys while only 25 girls were sent to the centre.
Of the 506 the juveniles, 30 were non-Omanis.
Currently juveniles in Oman are sent to Central Jail in Samail, but Khalifa Al Maqrashi, director of the Juveniles Affairs Department, told the Times of Oman that the jail’s location will be shifted to Muscat. Al Nomani said: “There was even a case where a man reported a child to the police for stealing his pigeon. He is now serving three months in the centre.”
Asked about what action should be taken if a child has been a victim of cyber crime at the hands of their peers, the ROP official advised parents to consult official health authorities for therapy.
In a world with fast-paced technology, giving modern devices with free or cheap internet access to children at an early age can also make them a soft target for cyber-criminals, the department warns.
But teenagers find it hard to surrender their fancy devices.
“I like to share pictures of my new games and clothes with my friends via WhatsApp,” an 11-year-old boy said.
Al Nomani, however, said that banning children from using new technology is not the right solution. “They should be educated on how to use the devices in a secure way under the supervision of adults,” he added.
Royal Oman Police (ROP) earlier this year told the Times of Oman about the ‘large’ number of online harassment cases involving adults targeting children in Oman through social media.
Recently, ROP has called upon parents via their twitter account to take better control of their children’s electronic devices and protect them from online stalkers – and temptation.
According to an ROP official, in certain cases, offenders asked some children to meet them in order to abuse them later.
“Rape cases have also been reported,” he confirmed.
“Parents must talk to their little ones when they suspect any suspicious behaviour because children are afraid of explaining such threats to their parents,” the official explained.
Roma Fernandes, clinical psychologist at the Whispers of Serenity Clinic, said: “I think there are two things to this- one is that we see a lot of times parents are nowadays scared or they don’t know how to deal with their teenagers. They are passive in dealing with them and I think that kids need to be disciplined a bit and that is why they have their parents and teachers and other mediums in place.
“Obviously this shouldn’t be done by hitting them but they need to be taught right from wrong and for that there needs to be strict rules in place such as limiting the internet usage time, locking of certain websites and if there is such parental guidance and protection in place, why not make use of this?
“Kids will always try and test limits, and always push boundaries but not letting kids take over the role of parents and adult is key.
“Parents need to be trained and taught how to react in such situations.
“A lot of the time kids grow up being afraid of their parents, so they start lying and hiding things from them which is not a good thing.”