"We mustn't forget ... young people live here too"
There's a growing move in the Netherlands towards taking a tougher approach towards young people who get into trouble. Now, however, the country's Council for Social Development is questioning this approach. By Frans Regtien.
One example of this new attitude is provided by a project in the southern province of North Brabant. This week, local police have been visiting 12 families near the city of Eindhoven following an alcohol check - held last weekend - which showed that 20 percent of the teenagers tested - under the legal drinking age of 16 - had in fact just consumed alcohol.
It's hoped that these 'home visits' can perhaps help thwart the apparent trend of teenagers starting to drink, and often abuse, alcohol at an increasingly younger age. An additional aim is to combat the problem of teenagers being drunk in public.
Troublemakers or youngsters needing a space where they can meet up?
To achieve these aims, the current campaign in North Brabant is being conducted in cooperation with the local authorities as well as agencies and organisations which deal with drug and alcohol related issues, including addiction problems.
These bodies will also be closely involved in the follow-up to the initial home visits, as the intention is that the parents will be provided with further information about the problem of alcohol abuse at a later stage.
Although this is still an experiment, it's also hoped that the central government will decide to back this approach with legislation. At the moment, for example, the law doesn't provide for any sanctions against young people under the age of 16 who consume alcohol in a bar or cafe, but the owner of that same bar or cafe can be prosecuted in that context. It's also against the law for anyone over the age of 16 to buy alcohol and give it to someone under the legal drinking age.
However, alcohol abuse among teenagers not the only form of youth-related problem that's started to be taken and tackled more seriously by the authorities in recent years. The Council for Social Development, a body which advises the Dutch government, noted recently that local authorities are taking increasingly harsher measures in an attempt to keep young people on the 'straight and narrow'.
Police now take photographs of young people who congregate or 'hang around' in public areas, and devices which emit high pitch tones - only audible to teenagers and children - are being used to drive them away from those areas. It seems that public opinion is the driving force behind all of this, with the 'general public' apparently wanting to be told that that these young people aren't going to be handled with kid gloves.
The Council for Social Development objects to what it describes as this 'one-sided' approach. Barbara van Wijk, a spokeswoman for the council, says it's not a bad thing that these problems are being tackled, but adds that:
"We need to avoid only being able to do something if the police are involved too. It's good that the social services are taking part in the project in North Brabant, because that's actually what they are supposed to do."
Barbara van Wijk believes in fact, that it's time that teenagers who now tend to hang around on the streets were actually given a space of their own to hang around in:
"We've got playgrounds for children, car parks for car drivers, and parks for dog owners, but as soon as young people need a space where they can meet up, the entire neighbourhood often gets worked up into a frenzy about possible trouble."
She believes that the trouble people fear can then become a reality because the young people don't feel welcome and because they're not give a suitable location. She adds: "We mustn't forget when we're planning residential neighbourhoods that young people live there too."
*RNW Translation (tpf)
5 May 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]