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Children are often the most vulnerable victims of war. In some cases, they are also among the perpetrators of violence. Child soldiers and child terrorists are simultaneously victims and victimizers, in some ways symbolizing the depravity and desperation of modern warfare as it is practiced in many parts of the world. Children’s roles as combatants are even more concerning when the children are very young. How do children come to fill these positions? Why do children join armed groups, and why do armed groups seek to employ children? In fact, children become militants for various reasons, most of which have little to do with “choice.” While some youths choose violence, many children’s options are limited by the contexts in which they live, their socialization or the conditioning they receive, and the cruel and coercive tactics used by armed groups, which include kidnapping and force. Armed groups employ children for their own benefit, and although children may appear weak and unskilled, they also offer unique strategic advantages to the groups employing them. Children are, by some estimates, easier to control, cheaper to employ, and easier to replace than their adult counterparts. The implications of childhood soldiering and children’s involvement in terrorism include ongoing warfare and conflict in places with weak or failed states, where societies are already struggling. The violence is particularly harsh on civilian populations, the primary targets of the violence of weak armed groups. Populations suffer displacement and poverty, and their children remain at risk of recruitment, lost lives, and lost futures.

Article

After nearly a hundred years of debate and analysis, the gang concept remains hotly contested within the social sciences. Once thought to be an exclusively American phenomenon, the study of gangs has become increasingly global over the last decade. Countries from every world region have observed the emergence of gangs and gang-like groups. In some places, gangs resemble their American counterparts, while in others they engage not only in petty crime and drug trafficking but in targeted assassinations, corruption of public officials, and racketeering as well. These activities make them less like the delinquent youth groups they were once conceived as and more akin to organized crime. In less stable and violent contexts, gangs have even been incorporated into ethnic militias, rebel groups, and paramilitaries or have taken on a more vigilante ethos by combating violence and providing some semblance of order. The remarkable proliferation of the gang form and the incredible variation in the phenomenon across the globe requires a reassessment of the gang concept. In the limited literature that focuses on the study of gangs cross-nationally, several conceptualizations have been proposed. Some scholars have attempted to separate smaller street gangs from a variety of other related phenomena: prison gangs, drug gangs, and organized crime. They have done so by crafting a more restrictive concept. However, while separating street gangs from other criminal groups may make sense in the American or European context, it applies less well to other parts of the globe where such organizational forms have become thoroughly integrated, thus blurring these traditional conceptual boundaries. At the same time, some scholars have advocated for a conceptual framework that captures the transformative nature of gangs and encompasses any and all types of gangs and gang-like groups. Such an evolutionary framework fails, however, to distinguish between gangs and a huge variety of criminal and political nonstate armed groups that share little in terms of their origins, motivations, or activities. It can be argued that the best conceptualization is a minimal one that incorporates gangs and many gang-like groups but avoids conceptual stretching to include virtually all nonstate armed groups. Ultimately, contemporary scholars of gangs within any national context must be increasingly attentive to the global dimensions of the gang organizational form and the various overlapping and multifaceted relationships they maintain with a variety of other nonstate armed groups.

Article

Michael Adorjan and Wing Hong Chui

A penal paradigm is an overarching criminal justice framework, salient within a certain era, that guides how we perceive of crime and criminality (including those who commit crimes) and how appropriate responses align with the internal logic of the wider philosophical framework. Paradigms of response to youth crime and delinquency in Canada and Hong Kong emerged in response to shifting sociopolitical exigencies salient in both contexts, respectively. Three epochs are of particular relevance in Canada: the penal welfare period under the Juvenile Delinquents Act, the due process and crime control framework salient during the Young Offenders Act, and the proportionate justice model central to the current Youth Criminal Justice Act. While both Canada and Hong Kong have drawn on Britain in crafting their youth justice systems, Hong Kong’s colonial period is of relevance, particularly the 1960s and 1970s, during which time unique cultural factors influenced Hong Kong’s framework of welfare protectionism and disciplinary welfare in response to youth delinquency and crime. Contemporary trends in juvenile justice and recent political unrest and potential implications for youth in Hong Kong refer back to this historical period, and comparing Canadian and Hong Kong penal paradigms of juvenile justice promotes a criminological imagination with the relation of state and citizen as central to understanding the significance of responses to youth deviance and criminality.

Article

Katharina Neissl and Simon S. Singer

Juvenile delinquency is a global phenomenon, and interest in comparative studies of juvenile offending and society’s reaction to it has been steadily growing, despite the inherent difficulties of comparing juvenile justice processes across different regions. Both adolescence and the concept of juvenile delinquency are social constructs that vary by time and place. To know what constitutes a juvenile, or a delinquent act, requires detailed knowledge of a jurisdiction’s social, political, cultural, and legal history. International data in the form of officially recorded contact of juveniles with formal institutions are scarce, and they are often limited in their use for direct comparisons, due to divergent definitions and recording practices, or coverage of geographical regions. The United Nations Surveys on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (UN-CTS) have the widest geographical reach, but lack transparency of definitions or verification. The World Prison Brief by the Institute for Policy Research at Birkbeck University of London provides prison trends around the globe, but only offers one indicator of juvenile imprisonment. The Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE) and the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics collect data on a range of custodial and non-custodial measures, and include detailed notes on national definitions, but are limited to Europe. The largest self-report study of youth is the International Self-Report Delinquency (ISRD) study, which is currently in its third wave that includes 40 countries across the globe. Since 1990 the United Nations has developed international conventions, rules, and guidelines that govern the rights of children, particularly as they relate to juvenile justice, and these guidelines have shaped, and continue to shape, juvenile justice processes across the globe. Almost all regions in the world have provisions to treat juveniles violating the law differently from adults, but they do so in a multitude of ways. Not all countries have separate systems for juveniles and adults, and in some regions of the world informal reactions to juvenile law-breaking dominate, or coexist with formal juvenile justice institutions. Juvenile justice systems are often categorized according to their founding philosophies, between the poles of a welfare and protection approach on one extreme, and a crime control and justice approach on the other. However, such classifications mask important differences between countries, and can only be seen as broad generalizations. In order to capture the intricacies of existing systems, and compare them between jurisdictions, a localized approach to juvenile justice is needed. It is not sufficient to describe which legal orientations or traditions inform a system, but rather it is necessary to examine how these traditions (as well as global trends and pressures) are interpreted by local juvenile justice administrators. Comparative juvenile justice research that can contribute to public debates and to achieving better outcomes for juveniles across the globe needs to be localized, pay special attention to the specific cultural, legal, and historical context of the jurisdiction studied, and differentiate between the law in theory and the law in practice.