Research Nugget

Youth gang involvement: Risk and Protective Factors

Youth gang involvement is a serious public challenge, with significant family, personal and societal costs, as youths in gangs are at an increased risk of engaging in and being exposed to violence. However, there is little research done around the involvement of young people in gangs from low- and middle-income countries such as South Africa, where violence rates are often high and the need for preventive strategies is essential.

NRF-funded research, which investigated the risk and protective factors for gang involvement, found that factors such as access to resources, school achievement, positive peer influences, and supportive adult relationships were key in helping young people avoid joining gangs. A lack of these factors was identified as increasing the risk for gang membership.

The study carried out focus groups and individual interviews with adolescents aged 13–14 years from Khayelitsha, a peri urban township near Cape Town, exposed to gang-related violence and activity on a daily basis, to find out their daily life experiences.

Staying in school was the factor that the majority of the adolescents in the focus groups identified as most important in preventing them from joining gangs. When asked what the most important thing in their lives was, the majority answered education. The study recommends the need for interventions to take an integrated and uniform approach to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors at the individual, family, school and community levels.

Access the full paper published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review here.