Nearly 4,000 boys and girls were arrested by police in the first three-quarters of the year as Greece's financial woes and rampant unemployment have sparked a sharp rise in juvenile delinquency.
Most young offenders during that period, statistics show, came from the lower-income bracket and the country's immigrant population, with the exception of drug-related offenses, in which case the increase involved all social strata.
“The trend demonstrates the impact of the economic crisis on the life of youngsters, either as a sense of deadlock or as a desperate attempt to make money,” Nestor Kourakis, professor of criminology and penal ethics at the Department of Law at the University of Athens, told us.
Kourakis warned that statistics suggest violent offenses are on the rise.
Between January and September, 3,920 under-18s were arrested, according to the police. Most were charged with burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and drug possession. A smaller number of minors were held for beatings, copyright violations and participation in organized crime. Twelve were charged with murder.
According to data from the Athens Juvenile Court, more than half of the 4,579 youths detained were foreign nationals. The majority of offenders were male.
One more alarming statistic is that the average age of boys and girls who get in trouble with the law is dropping. Earlier this year, a 10-year-old Roma in Zefyri, northwestern Athens, shot and killed a boy of the same age. A police investigation determined that murder had been committed.
“We are witnessing an escalation of violence. School bullying is getting out of control, resulting in relentless beatings,” a supervisor at a juvenile center who wished to remain anonymous told us. A considerable number also engage in far-right activity, although no significant escalation has been recorded.
The number of young offenders referred for mental health treatment is growing, experts said, warning that the main signs of juvenile delinquency are truancy and poor school performance.