SCMP Saturday, November 11, 2000


HK movie gangsters prove bad role models for youths

Most young people in Macau are relatively restrained in their moral and social values, but even so, many of them idolise Hong Kong movie villains to the point of imitation.
"Macau's young people are quite conservative," said Penny Chan Yan-yan, the Macau Juvenile Delinquency Research Society's chairwoman. "Most still think they should ask their parents for permission to marry."
Macau has a very young population. Twenty-three per cent of its 436,000 residents are below the age of 15, compared with 17 per cent in Hong Kong. Thirty-seven per cent are below the age of 25, the Government's definition of young.
Dr Chan, an associate professor of sociology at the Macau Polytechnic Institute, has studied a wide range of deviant and criminal behaviour among juveniles, including the obsession some youngsters have with the male stars of Hong Kong-made gangster movies, in particular "bad boy" actor Ekin Cheng Yi-kin.
Many educators think the often-positive portrayal in Hong Kong films of triad-linked gangsters and hoodlums negatively affects the moral development of teenagers.
Dr Chan says some boys try to gain respect from their peers by passing themselves off as "blue lanterns", Cantonese slang for the lowest-ranking members of a triad gang. Although most youngsters claiming to be "blue lanterns" (laam danglung) are just bluffing, some might eventually join triad societies.
Stealing motorcycles for joy rides and engaging in petty theft are the most common juvenile offences in Macau, Dr Chan says.
She rejects as impractical the proposal by some legislators to impose a midnight curfew on unaccompanied teenagers, similar to schemes operating on a trial basis in Tai Po and other parts of the New Territories. She is calling instead for additional juvenile-counselling services.
Dr Chan supports the Macau Government's proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 14 from 16. The present age limit, which stands at just seven in Hong Kong, is seen as inappropriate by most community leaders.
Several youngsters alleged to have committed murder are thought to have evaded justice because of the law.
But the most pressing problem, according to Dr Chan, is that Macau does not have enough facilities for troubled youths. Macau's only correctional facility for juvenile offenders has room for about two dozen inmates.
Although drug abuse seems less serious for Macau teenagers than it is among their Hong Kong peers, Dr Chan warns that an increasing number of local youngsters think violence is an acceptable way to settle scores.
"Even minor conflicts have led to violent acts," she says, adding that youth-development programmes are the best way to prevent this.
Dr Chan says the problem is aggravated by the outright rejection of young offenders by Macau residents, which makes rehabilitation difficult. There is also the practice in some schools of covering up students' deviant or criminal behaviour out of fear that news about it would affect the schools' public image.
Another problem is the appallingly poor quality of official statistics on juvenile delinquency. Depending on whom one listens to, juvenile crime is either rising or falling.
Harald Bruning ( ) is the Post's Macau correspondent.