Chameleons: Christian or criminal

Judge Ida Malosi, Niu Sila’s/New Zealand’s first female Pacific Island judge, was reported in today’s newspapers as saying many young Pacific offenders in Aukilani Saute / South Auckland are “chameleons” who attend church with their family the morning after committing a crime.  “On Saturday night he committed an egregious violent offence.  On Sunday he dutifully did as his mother said, got up and got dressed in his Sunday best and went to Sunday school.  On Monday he appeared in court”. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned how a cousin of mine had been arrested for aggravated robbery with a group of his friends, after the victim identified my cousin months after the incident, when my cousin stopped on the side of the road to assist the victim who’s car had broke down.  My cousin is who the Judge is talking about, and the many other Pacific youth who find themselves in such a position.


On one hand it seems so easy for our youth to get involved in criminal activity, yet it’s not beyond those same youth to do a good deed, as my cousin did.

Judge Malosi was commenting on a study conducted for the Families Commission by AUT University with Otara researcher Efeso Collins and Mangere researcher Ronji Tanielu.

Mr Tanielu said they found that family was still important for almost all the young “gangstas”.  “Most Pasifika youth in gangs did not want to replace their family or home with the gang,” he said. “A lot talked about the ‘blood family’ compared to the ’street family’.”  I think this would explain how easy it is for some of our youth to change hats, if you could call it that.  While they may be involved in criminal behaviour, their connection to family is stronger, but only just.

The researchers found that young people who joined gangs often felt unloved by their parents.  This seems to be the crux of the matter.  Why do our youths join gangs or commit criminal behaviour?  Because there is a need to belong.  And if the family is not that source of belonging, then our kids will look elsewhere.  Of course it’s not as simple as that.

AUT social scientist Dr Camille Nakhid, who led the study, said many Pasifika parents had multiple jobs and worked long hours, so were not at home for their children.  Our parents are not negligent.  In no way are they intentionally trying to push their children away.  While parenting skills can be improved, if parents have to work long hours and more than one job to make ends meet, it doesn’t matter how much communication skill a parent can obtain, it’s useless if they aren’t there to communicate with them.

Mr Collins said many young gang members were concerned about their parents’ poverty.  “A lot of them said, ‘In the future I want to help my parents pay the bills, I want to buy them a house’.  So approaches to young people including ideas about how they want to serve their parents is an important opportunity.” 

This isn’t a lost cause.  Our youth know the struggles our parents are going through.  Our parents are also beginning to understand that tough love isn’t always the best way.  In a world that offers so many good things, there are also plenty of bad things that can attract our youth away.  We just need to find a balance within our families where our youth are valued and feel valued.  At the same time, our parents need to be appreciated more, and given some slack as they work to pay the bills.

Ultimately, the onus is on us as parents and adults to find that balance. Because as Judge Malosi says “Young people, by definition, make mistakes. Adults, by definition, need to mentor and support them through those mistakes.”

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