Updated: 6:54am – The number of children and teenagers appearing in court for robbery is the highest in almost a decade.

Ministry of Justice figures reveal the number of 10-to-16-year-olds charged with robbery has jumped by 56 percent in the past year alone.

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In the year to June, 267 young people were in court for robbery and extortion-type offences, up from 171 the previous year. That is the highest number since 2008.

A Napier dairy owner whose Four Square store in the suburb of Greenmeadows has been robbed four times in a little over a year, said he had witnessed that rise first hand.

The most recent was last week when a group of teenagers turned up with a gun and a knife, demanding he hand over all the cash in the till.

“It’s very frustrating for us, and every time they are youth. Last time they were 14 years old, and this time they were 15 and 16,” said the owner.

“Every time we stand behind a counter, we are just worried that someone will come with a gun, or a knife or hammer… and it must be the price of the cigarettes, they’re too expensive and they can’t afford it anymore, and I think it’s going to get worse because the cigarette price is going up.”

Sully Paea, a youth worker in Otara, South Auckland, said it was disappointing more teenagers were turning to robbery, but he was not entirely surprised.

“They gotta live, they’re desperate, they’re disconnected, so they just refer back to what they know, and that is crime, committing crime to live, to support what they do.”

The number of 10-to-16-year-olds appearing in court for all crimes has increased by five percent in the past year.

Mr Paea said there was a lot of youth unemployment, in his area in particular, and support services for young people had been dramatically cut in the past year.

“There’s no support, there’s no help for these people, they have no options… it’s pretty much at a point where I’m not sure there’s [any services] in our area, so youth are not getting the support that they need, so they have to do something to live I suppose.”

The government has put $3 million of funding into crime and gang prevention programmes in the wider Auckland region, but that ended in June.

Longer term trend down

Three young men aged 18-20 were sentenced to jail in August for the robbery of a supermarket in Mangere, and a 15-year-old was dealt with by the Youth Court. Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

The director of youth justice organisation JustSpeak, Tania Sawicki Mead, said it was important to keep the recent rise in charges in perspective.

She said while the number of robberies had risen, court appearances for all youth offending had dropped by 40 percent since 2012.

“Even five years ago we almost saw two times as many young people appear before the court as we’re seeing today, so while there has been a small increase it really pales in comparison overall to the greater trend, which still is trending downward.”

She said it was reassuring to see that very few of the youth charged were dealt with in an adult court, and said alternatives were more effective in deterring youth from a life of crime.

-RNZ

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