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Young Gangs And Criminal Behaviour In Malaysia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4327 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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According to the National Youth Development Policy in Malaysia (as cited in United Nations, 2002), people between the ages of 15 and 40 are considered youth. However, the United Nations defines youth, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. The Merriam-Webster (2010) defined youth as the time of life when one is young, the period between childhood and maturity. Statistically, youth aged 15 to 24 contribute to the largest proportion of the total population (Economic Planning Malaysia, 2010). The youths are the future leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, the government of value and stressed on the development of youth. Recently, the government had allocated RM20 million to the 1Malaysia fund for youth development under the Budget 2011 (Bernama, 2011). As youth constituted to the biggest section of Malaysia’s population, their involvement in youth gang and criminal behaviours has received great attention from everyone.

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According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary (1997), the term “gang” can be described as a group of young people, who are typically troublesome; regularly associate together. Kennedy and Baron (as cieted in Ngail, Cheung, Steven, 2007) defined gang as “a group oriented and committed to anti social, deviant, and criminal activities. ” Howard (1997) stated that youth gang is a self-formed association of peers having identifiable leadership and collective actions to carry out illegal activities.

Background of Study

The risk behaviour among youth is an ever growing problem in Malaysia. A study revealed the risk behaviour among adolescents revealed that truancy (34.4%) was the major risk behaviour and followed by loitering in public places (21.5%); bullying friends (14.4%), stealing (12.9%) and smoking (12%) (Hidayah, Hanafiah, Idris, Rosnah, Ibrahim, & Nonnah, 2009).

An academic analysis on the rise of crime in Malaysia showed that there is an increase of crime from 70,823 in year 1980 to 156,455 in 2004 (Sidhu, 2005) . This amount to an increase of 120 percent which indicated that crime rate has increased dramatically. The crime index continue to grow from 156,315 cases in 2003 to 224,298 cases in 2007 which indicated the increased of 45% over the past four years (“Crime and Safety”, 2008).

The three major races of Malaysian are Malay, Chinese and Indian. The Economic Planning Unit of Malaysia calculated the population of Malaysia in 2010 stated that Malays (21%) constituted to the largest group; Chinese (22.6%); and Indian (6.8%). Although Indian represents a small minority group, they have contributed to the criminal and gang related problem. Mr. Ramli Yusuff, deputy national chief of detectives, disclosed that there were 38 Indian crime gangs in the Peninsular of Malaysia with a total membership of around 1,500 in 2000. “Indians are a minority in the country but criminals from the ethnic group are committing the most number of serious crimes compared with other races,” he said (“Concern in Malaysia”, 2000). Aliran (as cited in Suryanarayan, 2008) provided statistical details that 40 percent of serious crimes in Malaysia are committed by the Indians; furthermore, Indians recorded the highest number of those detained in prison.

Chapter II

Literature review

Most gang members begin their involvement in gangs as youth. Snyder and Sickmund (as cited in Sharkey, Shekhtmeyster, Chavez-Lopez, Norris, & Sass, 2011) reported that most gang members join between the ages of 12 and 15 years. Three former gangsters has been interviewed and reported to joined gang during their secondary school life (Alagappar, Len, George, Lee, & Wong, 2005). These studies indicated the crucial developmental period of youth is during the high school period.

The Social Activities of Youth Gang

Youth gang engaged in various gang activities. Futrell (as cited in Yahaya, Boon, & Buang) stated that activities carried out by the gangsters in school consist of being harsh to teachers, threatening acts, stealing, and bullying or beating students. Another study indicated that youth gang especially high school students reported to have high prevalence of alcohol use, engaged in physical fighting, drug use and drug selling (Swahn, Bossarte, West, & Topalli, 2010). Gang members have found to have greater involvement in delinquent behaviors and the gang affiliation increases adolescents’ involvement in violence (Madan, Mrug, & Windle, 2010).

The youth gang issues in Malaysia have been frequently reported by the media. In 2006, news published in Daily Express regarding gang fights and police rounded up eleven boys, among them were four secondary school students. At the same year, a group school girls engaged in gang fight by bullying another student was reported (The Star, 2006). This year, cases have been reported over newspapers. Guang Ming Daily (2011) reported that a gang of youth has been engaging in theft behavior and three teenagers has robbed and injured a sergeant. Recently, five men, aged 18 to 30 were arrested in connection with a clash involving 40 members of two rival gangs. In the ensuing fight, at least five members were injured and two vehicles burnt (Tahir, 2011). Sin Chew Daily (2011) has revealed teenagers vandalized the public property; a group of Mak Rempit refused to listen to advice and stabbed innocent person. The news being reported has indicated the significance of youth gang problems and the severity of the problems can range from vandalism to killing people.

Risk Factors for Gang Membership

Strain theory

The traditional strain theories stated that some individuals are drawn to crime when they are prevented from achieving cultural goals such as monetary success or higher social status (Froggio, 2007). A more conventional approach of strain theory suggested that if young people are treated badly, they become upset and respond with aggression, crime and other deviant behaviors (Agnew, as cited in Froggio, 2007). Agnew stated that strain refers to “relationships in which others are not treating the individual as he or she would like to be treated.”

Poverty. Sharkey et al. (2011) stated that people living in poverty experience strain due to the inability to achieve the ideal economic success; consequently, people may grow to feel despair and turn into criminal activities in order to achieve sense of gratification. There were 41 percent vagrants and beggars in Malaysia has been reported by Aliran (as cited in Suryanarayan, 2008) to be Indians. This may indicate the higher poverty rate is among the Indian community; hence, they have higher risks to engage in crime. A recent research in Malaysia reviewed majority of bullies were from rural schools and families with low income (Uba, Yaacob, Juhari, 2010).Young people living in poverty may find it difficult to meet basic physical and psychological needs; one way to earn cash is to join a gang involved in the drug trade (“Gang”, 2008). Gangs provide the perfect structure and leadership necessary to maximal criminal success (Sharkey et al., 2011).

Inequality. Malaysia’s social workers and politicians said that Indians turn to crime because they feel marginalized from government development plans and lack equal education, business and job opportunities (“Concern in Malaysia”, 2000). When groups of people are denied access to power, privileges, and resources, they will often form their own anti-establishment group (“Gang”, 2008). Regan (as cited in Sharpe, 2003) explained that individuals joined gang as the gang provides sense of acceptance to them.

Social control theory

The control theory suggested that entry into deviant peer groups is a function of a lack of social control experienced by youth (Hirschi, as cited in Hill, Howell, Hawkins, & Pearson, 1999). Youth are less likely to join a gang if they are committed and able to adapt to the community expectations (Sharkey et al., 2011).

School. School as a social control system contributed to a child’s adaptability to community expectation. High academic expectation and teacher’s expectation tend to play the role. The risk factors identified in joining a gang included academic failure; negative labeling from teachers; low commitment to school; high delinquent in school (Hill et al., 1999).

Social learning theory

Social learning theory believed that people learn through modeling. The role models of family members and peers tend to be the most influential in youngsters.

Family. Family members are important models from whom youth learn from. Howell (1997) indicated that family members in a gang will contribute to the risk factor of youth for gang membership. Other studies related to family revealed that students with no parents, students from broken family and poor family management had greater odds of joining gang (Hill et al., 1997). Consistently, the findings obtained from Alagappar et al. (2005) interviews indentified former gang members in Malaysia were from troubled and lack understanding family (refer to Appendix A; Appendix B).

Peers. In self-report studies, association with deviant or delinquent peers is consistently one of the strongest predictors of an adolescent’s own delinquency (Esbensen, Peterson, Taylor, & Freng, 2009). Affective ties to delinquent peers are also strongly and consistently linked with youth gang involvement (Sharkey, et al., 2011). Consistently, a study of gangsterism in Malaysia secondary school showed that friends were the most influences referred to by the students as compared to their family (Yahaya et al., 2001). Other peer-related factors included limited or lack of association with pro-social peers or low commitment to positive peers (Howell, 1997).

Cognitive developmental theory

Cognitive developmental theory regards inadequate cognitive development as a cause of delinquent behaviours and gang involvement (Ngai, Cheung, & Steven, 2007). Cognitive development manifests itself in one’s ability to process and analyze information in order to formulate solutions to problems (Husband & Platt, as cited in Ngai, Cheung, & Steven, 2007). Raine (as cited in Ngai et al., 2007) explained that the ability involves empathy, perspective thinking, and ethical reasoning which are cognitive guides of one’s behaviour. Ngai et al. further discussed that delinquency arises out of ignorance of others. As a result, anger, quarrel, and even violence against others may happen due to inability to understand and tolerate others.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

According to Maslow’s model of hierarchy, people have basic hierarchal needs, which include physiological (hunger, thirst, shelter), safety (security and protection), belongingness (love, affection, family, acceptance, friendship), esteem (self-esteem, achievement, recognition, respect), and self-actualization (self-fulfilment; Maslow, 1970). Findings from several youth gang research have been found to support Maslow’s theory.

Physiological needs. A focus group of youngsters who associated with gang, aged 17-21 were interviewed by Alagappar and her group in 2005. When the researchers asked the participants what makes them more likely to join gangsterism, majority of the participants answered in need of material goods and money.

Safety. A recent study reviewed by Taylor, Freng, Esbensen & Peterson (2011) demonstrated that most youth reported joining a gang for protection. Research in Malaysia has found that some students were victims of bully before they join into a gang (Alagappar et al., 2005; refer to Appendix C).

Belongingness. In a qualitative analysis, an ex-gangster was asked why he joined gangsterism, he replied: “9 out of 10 of my friends are gangsters; I would be left out and alienated if I do not join them” (Alagappar et al., 2005). This result further supported the social learning theory as youth obtain the sense of belonging and identity through peers (refer to Appendix A).

Esteem. Alagappar et al. (2005) indicated that one of the reasons youngsters involve in gang is to gain popularity and recognition from other students in school (refer to Appendix A). Additionally, joining gang will provide higher privileged for youngsters to vent out their anger. Once in a gang, self-esteem is increased through power, wealth, and status (Sharkey et al., 2011). Sharkey and his group further described that gang provide members with self-esteem and respect that they do not receive from others.

“Gang can function as adaptive social mechanisms for satisfying needs of some youths that are not met through traditional and socially acceptable means. Gangs offer many benefits that are unmet in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods” (Sharkey et al., 2011). Regan (as cited in Sharpe, 2003) explained that “gangs serve a valuable role in the development and socialization of an individual as they seek the approval of their peers and their identities; acceptance and identity is provided by the gang and thus makes membership an attractive possibility.” Studies postulated that failure in academic or social areas motivates youth to antisocial behavior and involve in gang provide self-esteem, peer acceptance, increased pride, feelings of empowerment, and a sense of ‘family’, where other institutions have failed to provide (Kee, Sim, Teoh, Tian, & Ng, 2003).

Youth Gang and Suicide

Madan, Mrug, and Windle (2010) worked on a sample of 589 ethnically diverse adolescents indicated that gang membership was associated with suicidal behavior. As gang members reported higher level of delinquency and witnessing community violence, this will mediate the effects of gang membership on suicidal behavior. Thus, higher involvement in criminal activities and witnessing violence may be responsible for increased suicidal behavior in adolescent gang members. Adolescent gang members not only are at risk form harming others but also themselves. Additionally, violence exposure is associated with an increased symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (Suglia, Staudenmayer, Cohen, & Wright, 2009). As the gang members exposed to violence frequently, the risks for them to develop post-traumatic stress disorder is high which will in turn contribute to the suicidal behavior among youth gang members.



There was several risk factors found associated with youth gang membership. Although each risk factor has been reviewed independently, the exposure to multiple risk factors may increase the risk for gang membership. Analyses of the effect of exposure to multiple risk factors done by Hill et al. (1997) indicated that exposure to greater number of risk factors in childhood greatly increased the risk of joining a gang in adolescence. In other words, youths may be resilient to the disadvantage posed by several individual risk factors, but as these accumulate, this resiliency may deteriorate and delinquency may result (Esbensen, Peterson, Taylor, & Freng, 2009). Thus, exposure to multiple risks factors will increase the probability of problem behavior such as violence or gang membership. The case studies in Malaysia indicated several factors that students joined gang (refer to Appendix A; Appendix B; Appendix C). The factors include family problem, academic failure, peer pressure, being bullied, to gain protection, to earn recognition, being recognized and have privilege in expressing anger.

From the developmental perspective, youth are experiencing physical and psychological changes. The period of youth has been recognized as transient, characterized by typical trials and tribulations (Idris, Yee, Tamam, Hamzah, Wong, 2008). In some circumstances, due to difficulties experienced, youth may manifest behavior that is deviant, abnormal and distressing. During this period, the socio-cultural milieu plays an important role in molding youth’s value and culture. Parenting, peers, school and society thus are vital in shaping youth.

Western countries have contributed to the major part of intervention toward youth gang. A school-based gang prevention programme, Gang Resistance Education and Training (G. R. E. A.T.) in United States has shown positive preliminary results in reducing gang affiliation and delinquency (Howell, 1997). This programme provides students with age-appropriate skills to deal with life stressors. At the same time, the programme offers training for parents, schools and police officers to prepare them to deal with youth gang problem. Malaysia as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country, the use of intervention with youth should be wise and well considered.

The major problem that needs to be addressed is the lack of awareness on Malaysian on the youth gang issues. The insufficient of youth gang research done locally has lead to the lack of prevention and treatment programme to deal with youth gang issue in Malaysia. This is the major limitation for the implication of intervention toward Malaysian. More studies involving the cultural diversity of Malaysians need to be conducted in order to get a better understanding of the profile of youth gang and the risk factors for gang membership, in turn enable better treatment and prevention protocol.


Program Title: Esprit de Corps

Aim: To prevent and reduce students’ from involving in gang

As most researchers indicated that the risky age of youth to be involved in gang is during the secondary school years (Alagappar, Len, George, Lee, & Wong, 2005), this intervention programme is designed to target secondary school students. This is a school-based programme that will be carried out during classes, in order to involve full participation of students in the school. Instead of naming the programme of anti-gangsterism, an attractive and unique name has been designed. The word Esprit de Corps means unity; to strengthen the bond among students, and teacher. Various programmes will be carried out during the month of April and May (refer to Appendix D, overview of programme).

Programme 1

Educational programme

According to Thraser and Lal (as cited in Yahaya, Boon, & Buang, 2001), the occurrence of youth gang is often out of the sight of the teacher. Therefore, the first step to evaluate the occurrence of youth gang is to identify its existence. The programme will begin with an educational programme targeted on teachers. Training will be provided to teachers, in order for them to run activities during the month of Esprit de Corps.

Purpose: to increase teachers’ awareness and understanding of the phenomena of youth gang and to equip teachers with the knowledge of youth gang in Malaysia and the skill to help student in need.

Duration: 1 month (once per week)



Person In Charge





Speaker: Social Worker

Raising awareness

The professionals served to provide information to the teachers

Brief introduction on youth gang in Malaysia


Where, when, how, and why youth gang cases happen in school

Risk factors

Q&A session



Registered counsellor

To equip teachers with the knowledge of youth gang in Malaysia and the skill to help student in need.

Counsellors share their experience and skill while handling with the youth gang cases

Role play session



Counsellor and Social Worker

Help the teacher to be well prepared and be confident when handling the real situation

Focus on case study to sharpen teachers’ counseling skill

Information exchange with the professional to have a better understanding on handling the youth gang issues.



Social Worker and Teachers

To prepare teachers to run activities

To modify better activities before implementation

Run activities (drama, debates, poster design, teambuilding games) that will be carried out with the students.

share information and idea on how to strengthen the activities to match with the purpose.

Month: April (every Saturday)

Various activities that attempt to reduce students’ impulsive and risk-seeking tendencies are carried out by teachers after undergo the training.

Programme 2: Ex-gang member testimonial

Purpose: Create awareness about youth gang and consequences of joining youth gang through talks and sharing by ex-gang member.

Target: Students

Duration: 1 hour

Venue: School hall


A former gang member will be invite to share his experience. There will be a brief introduction on the ex-gang member background. He will share about the reasons that he joined gang and his experiences as a gang member, as well as what makes him feel regrets and what had changed him. Due to his real life experience, his words may have greater impact toward students.

Programme 3: Drama

Purpose: Provide student a chance to involve with different character and understand the different roles of youth in different situation.

Duration: 30 minutes

Venue: Classroom (during moral class)


A class of students will divide into four groups. Each group will get a different title (bystander, cultural differences, vandalism and fighting). The students will be given a week of time to prepare for the drama. Each group will be presenting on each week. Other students will be the audience. Through this, the performer can get into the role and able to think as if they were in the shoes of others. In the end of the drama, pupils are invited to share their ideas and feedback will be collected. For example, the group with bystander will be assign to a scenario and it is accompany by the roles card which include “Bully”, “Bullied”, “Bystander”, “Collude”, and “Challenger”. The students will have to play different roles in order to enhance their emphatic feelings.

Programme 4: Poster Design

Purpose: Enable student to express their own view on youth gang and “Esprit de Crops” in drawing form.

Duration: 1hour

Venue: Classroom (During art class)


A3 drawing paper will be provided and students need to prepare their own drawing material. The best drawing will be voted by students in the same class and the best poster will be printed on T-shirts and sell to the public. The fund collected will be used in the next community caring program.

Programme 4: Community Caring Program

Purpose: increase youths’ moral convictions, social conscience/responsibility, and altruistic values through helping others; visiting underprivileged people may help students to be grateful.

Duration: 5 hours

Day: Saturday

Venue: Orphanage, old folk’s home, center for disabled, rehabilitation centers, shelter home and other related places.

Description: The teachers will discuss with their class to decide a place for them to visit. Students can buy some daily utensil through the collected fund or donate the money to the center. Besides that, they may prepare some activities to interact with the people at the center. Also, students may work together in cleaning the place and provide comfortable setting for the underprivileged one.

Programme 6: Debates

Purpose: Provide a setting to let student to freely speak out their mind at the same time enhance their critical thinking skill.

Duration: 30 minutes

Venue: Classroom (During moral class)


The title for debate is: youth gang, “voluntary or involuntary?’ The title will be given two days prior the debates. Each of the panel has to prepare their own information. During the day of debate, each team is given three minutes to arrange their information. The first debater of each group is given 3 minutes to make his introduction. The second debaters will have 4 minutes to voice out their point. The third debaters will be given 5 minutes to argue the opponent’s point and affirm their stands. For the last debaters, 2 minutes will be given to restate their stands and conclude. An open discussion on the debate title will be held in class after the debate.

Programme 7: Teambuilding games

Purpose: To enhance teamwork among students; let them feel being involved, and accepted; strengthen the bond among peers.

Duration: 30 minutes

Venue: School field or basketball court (During physical education class)


All the students will be divided into small groups (8-10 people per group). Game instruction will be given. This game required team work where all members will have to get into the hula hoop which will be placed on the ground. The members in the circle can only stand with one leg. Group members need to help each other to ensure everyone is able to get inside the circle; the group needs to keep their position for at least 10 seconds. The game ends with an explanation on the purpose of game. Standing with only a leg is to illustrate that everyone has limitation and they need to tolerate and help each other in order to accomplish the given task.


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