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Authorities target brutal gang violence

Concerns have been raised over youth violence in Switzerland

Tough measures are needed to tackle the rise in gang culture and brutal youth violence, according to a report, which also calls for greater parental responsibility.

This content was published on June 14, 2008 - 11:10

The study, by the canton Ticino authorities, comes after a student was beaten to death by a group of youths earlier this year. The case prompted a huge outcry both locally and nationally.

Damiano Tamagni, who was 22, was set upon by three young men during carnival celebrations in the Italian-speaking town of Locarno in February. The men, all aged between 19 and 24, were later arrested.

In reaction, the Ticino authorities created a special task force for youth violence, which presented its conclusions in an 88-page report in Bellinzona earlier this week.

Although there is no evidence that youth violence has significantly increased in Switzerland – there have been cases in other parts of the country as well - the seriousness of the crimes committed has gone up, say officials.

"What is also more common are crimes committed by groups, which involve minors, whether as perpetrators or victims," noted the report.

"And youths belonging to a gang commit up to ten times more crimes than other youths."

Gang culture has spread to Ticino, although only to the larger towns of Locarno and Bellinzona, according to police.

These groups are very hierarchical and are made up of both Swiss and foreigners, noted the report. Violence has now become so common that it is tolerated and reoffending rates are high, it added.

"Mirror of society"

The study also considers the causes. It concludes that youths are the mirror of society and are highly affected by the violent behaviour of adults.

Factors such as the disintegration of the family and influence of the mass media also play a role.

The report argues that youths no longer have clear reference points and find it difficult to adapt to a rapidly and constantly changing society.

In addition, they find it harder to build their own identities in families where parents are absent or the level of education is low. This is because rules and limits are often not set.

The authors said that many young people lived in a climate of constant rivalry and competition, where the culture of "the best" was uppermost.

This did not encourage respect for values such as dignity or a sense of humanity or solidarity. All that counted was gaining a privileged position – socially or personally, they wrote.

Foreigners

The report also wades into the thorny issue of foreigners and violence. In the days following Damiano's death, xenophobia raised its head in Ticino after it became clear that all three perpetrators had foreign origins.

The killing prompted a plea by Damiano's family for people to stop "fomenting racism".

"At the moment, there are no clear and documented relations between ethnic origin and violent behaviour," stated the report.

According to police statistics, violence is almost equally split between Swiss and foreigners. It is most common in male youths between the ages of 13 and 20. They often reoffend, have hot tempers but show emotional coldness, it was found.

Youths today, the study says, need to be taught how to deal with moods and feelings.

The task force has drawn up around 30 measures to tackle youth violence, including restricting the sale of alcohol and improving support for young people.

Among the more controversial proposals is that parents should take more responsibility. This could lead to obligatory parenting courses or a fine if their children are found drunk in public. Night curfews for unaccompanied minors were also mooted.

Damiano's family has set up a foundation in his memory aimed at fighting the problem.

His father, Maurizio Tamagni, was present at the report's launch. "I hope that our son's death is a turning point and has not been in vain," he said.

swissinfo, based on an Italian article by Françoise Gehring in Bellinzona

Report's key points

Youth violence has become more brutal and often breaks out for reasons such as a wrong word or gesture. It is not linked to ethnic origin.

It is mostly an urban trend and takes place in the evenings. It is often accompanied by alcohol and or drug consumption. It is a topic that gains more media attention than adult violence.

In addition Ticino has a special police unit devoted to dealing and monitoring with youth violence. It has observed more cases needing hospital attention and an increased use of knives.

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