Poverty, not recognition, is why students join gangs, say experts

Economist Madeline Berma says students who come from low-income backgrounds join gangs for money and to ‘boost’ their self worth. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: Students join secret societies mainly because of poverty and not because they want to be highly regarded and feared by their peers.

Experts say the students think their involvement in gangs will lead them to a lavish lifestyle later on.

They were commenting on a statement by Bukit Aman Anti-Vice, Gambling and Secret Societies Division (D7) principal assistant director Rohaimi Md Isa that students involved in secret societies are mainly driven by the desire for “recognition”.

Economist Madeline Berma said students who come from low-income backgrounds join gangs for money and to “boost” their self worth.

She said they are likely influenced by their desire for a lavish lifestyle.

She noted that while some are forced to join secret societies like Gang 08, Gang 550, Gang 36 and Ang Soon Thong, many are also influenced by movies and stories that depict these gangsters.

“So youngsters, including school children, join these secret societies for the same financial and physical security (depicted in these films),” said Berma, who specialises in rural development.

Syed Omar Syed Agil, an academic who recently profiled the backgrounds of about 100 homeless families and individuals in Kuala Lumpur, said an analysis should be carried out on why students join gangs.

“They feel that by joining secret societies they can one day become rich and powerful like their members. They often see these members living a stylish and lavish lifestyle and feeling secure,” he said.

At the same time, he said secret societies are on a recruitment drive and know they can easily attract students from poor families.

But Syed Omar, an external examiner at Medina International University, said it is not poverty per se that is driving this trend of students joining but the financial situation of their families.

“Students from poor societies are pushed to join gangs when they see their peers who come from poor families buying and owning things that they themselves desire,” he said.

Syed Omar called on Putrajaya to ensure a social security net is in place. As a start, he said schools should let the Welfare Department or state religious councils know about poor students and their backgrounds.

With this information, officers from the schools, the Welfare Department and state religious councils can monitor the activities of the students and prevent them from joining secret societies, he said.

They should also provide skills training and initial capital for entrepreneurial and business activities to help them break the poverty cycle.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin, speaking from experience, said it was more likely that urban school children are joining gangs, and not those from rural areas who often take to other things like glue sniffing instead.

But he agreed that peer pressure, a lack of love at home and the fear of being bullied play a part in students joining secret societies.

Mak said education is needed to remind them why it is wrong to join secret societies.

He proposed that the police, the Prisons Department and former gangsters carry out talks in schools to create awareness about the risks and consequences of joining gangs.

A strict and tactful school disciplinary board and principal are also key, he said, adding that he knows of cases where principals or teachers “befriend” gangsters so they will not disturb their students.

PSM committee member S Arutchelvan, who often goes on the ground to help the poor, said Tamil-speaking children join gangs because they feel the need for protection.

“Unlike the Chinese school system where there are secondary Chinese schools, Tamil primary pupils feel intimated when going to secondary school since there are not that many Tamil secondary schools,” he said.

Because they are undergoing a “culture shock” at joining multiracial schools for the first time, these students would be intimidated and would join gangs for “protection”.

“They also like getting fast money from gangs. Most of them prefer to work and get cash rather than learn skills first.

“And because their parents, often from the low-cost flats, are out most of the time to make ends meet, they take matters into their own hands,” he said.

Arutchelvan called for a more wholesome education system as well as highly trained teachers and an adequate support system at low-cost flats and urban poor areas to deal with the problem.