Rising Insecurity

{gallery}newsletters/18/1/1{/gallery}Given the monthly news of murders, rapes, robberies and other crimes, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are becoming increasingly insecure.  Although little coherent analysis exists which incorporates statistical data, many subjectively believe they are less safe today than in previous years.

Authors: Adisa MEHIĆ, Adnan AVDAGIĆ, Aleksandra TOLJ, Jasna PEKIĆ, Mladen LAKIĆ and Safet ŠARIĆ

The problem of juvenile delinquency has recently taken on alarming proportions in BiH.  Such antisocial behavior represents a dangerous and complex socio-pathological phenomenon which challenges law enforcement, legal and economic institutions.  It is an equally serious issue for families, schools and doctors.  Generally, individuals who perpetrate crimes as juvenile delinquents are charged with a felony.  However, special care is required when employing this terminology.  Modern definitions of juvenile delinquency incorporate a wide range of behaviors.  Narrowly speaking, juvenile delinquency may be understood through theories of criminal law as well as general deviance.1     

The term delinquency encompasses all illegal behaviors not classified as criminal acts, but rather violations and other types of offenses.  Specifically, delinquency typically refers to the unlawful behavior of children and minors punishable by law.  These behaviors would legally be considered normal crimes if the individual who committed such an act were not a minor.  It is important to emphasize that delinquent behavior of children and youth is a sensitive issue that affects many levels of society.     

Dr. Armin Kržalić of the Center for Security Studies noted that certain groups violate law and order in every country of the world.  “If we compare statistical data available in BiH with that from neighboring European countries, the situation actually looks quite good.”  Kržalić argued that a more thorough analysis provides a different picture.  This picture indicates increased levels of fear among the citizenry of large towns in BiH such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar.   

“It’s terrifying that BiH loses 580 lives annually as a result of homicide and suicide.  An average 36 people are raped per year in our country.  Data also shows us that 1182 individuals were victims of domestic violence in 2010,” said Dr. Kržalić. 

Although it may sound ridiculous, the citizens of Sarajevo recently voted to hire Batman to save them from rising crime rates in an open job competition posted on <market.ba>.  This tragicomic example is indicative of feelings among the general population. 

2010 and 2011 will surely be remembered in Tuzla and the surrounding Canton as years of fear and crime.  One only had to open a newspaper to read all about instances of beatings, rapes, murders and suicides.  On December 29th 2010, two young men with guns brutally raped a 19-year old female from Tešanj in downtown Tuzla.  This crime stunned the city, as well as the entire country.  However, the city had little time to recover from such displays of violence.  On New Year’s Eve, two unidentified individuals raped a female medical student who was returning from the Tuzla Youth Center to the Slatina neighborhood.  Just days later, authorities responded to a call from a 29-year old in the Ši Selo neighborhood who had also been raped.

“After these crimes, I don’t feel safe walking alone and try to stay out of the city.  I really haven’t noticed an increased police presence in the areas where the rapes occurred.  I think the police need to be more active.  I’m not satisfied with their efforts to secure Tuzla’s streets,” said Nevzeta Šečić, a third year law student at the University of Tuzla.   

New Kids, Old Laws


According to the Criminal Code of BiH, the child is defined as a “person who is not yet 14 years old,” while a minor or juvenile is “an individual who is not yet 18 years old.” 2 It is important to also consider the definition of a minor as per the Beijing Rules.  “A minor is a child or young person who, according to a given legal system, should be treated differently from an adult offender in certain cases.” 3

In a report focused on the state of security in the Republika Srpska (RS) from January through December 2010, a total of 9522 recorded instances of general crime occurred.  705 of these crimes were committed by minors.  During the same period, 14 crimes occurred during which minors were in possession of firearms.  In a similar report published by the Federation of BiH that examined the first six months of 2010, the authors write that “[…] juvenile delinquency is a particular social issue because minors often commit offenses related to drug abuse.  Juveniles may act alone or in groups and usually perpetrate crimes such as auto or personal property theft.  They are increasingly the culprits of serious crimes such as robbery, rape, etc.  Of the total number of criminal offenses, 670 or 8.1% were committed by juveniles.”

As per the Criminal Code, minors who are first-time offenders generally receive educationally-based forms of punishment.  However, old delinquents may be sentenced to a prison specifically for minor criminals.  “Individuals between 14 and 16 years of age only receive sentences related to education.  Minors cannot be given a suspended sentence.”

An example of how the law is applied in practice was offered to Atlantic Initiative by Amir Zelić, Director of the Bjelave Orphanage.  Zelić described a ward of the prison for juvenile delinquents Hum.  One minor currently housed at Hum was reprimanded for crimes on 467 occasions.  After the 467th incident, a theft, the individual was not actually punished and merely given greater supervision by social services in the partially open prison for juvenile delinquents. 4  

It is noteworthy that the total volume of crime in the Canton of Sarajevo dropped after a department for juvenile delinquents was opened in the Correctional Institute in Tuzla.  This allowed some of the wards from Hum to be transferred and created more space for future offenders.  Juveniles are referred to these institutions after receiving warnings and being reprimanded.  Appropriate supervision and disciplinary measures are subsequently applied.  Such methods may be administered for up to five years depending on the efficiency of treatment as reported every three months to a judicial authority by the responsible institution.  Juvenile delinquents work with teachers, sociologists, psychologists, social workers and representatives of the Ministries for Education and Culture and Sport.  Individuals in custody receive both individual and group therapy, depending on the gravity of crimes committed, their mental health and other factors.  Dženan Berberović, a sociologist and educator, suggested that group activities are more effective than those carried out individually. 5 According to information published in December 2010, the majority of delinquents come from Sarajevo.  However, others come from Zenica, Bihac, Velika Kladuša and Tuzla.  Those charged with a felony have committed acts of violence, damaged property or sexually assaulted individuals.  80% of the wards are multiple offenders who have committed the same crime on more than one occasion.  Five individuals are currently being prosecuted for the crimes they committed.      

In the past several years, the percentage of crimes committed by minors as compared to the total number of crimes committed has remained between 8 and 10%.  BiH lacks a sufficient number of jails or halfway houses for juvenile delinquents.  Many abandoned children are forced to grow up on the streets without appropriate parental care or education.  A large number of today’s juvenile delinquents came of age in such circumstances.  Responsible institutions should ensure that juvenile offenders receive appropriate forms of correctional control.        

Troubling trends exist regarding the age of juvenile delinquents.  Legally, a juvenile delinquent is between 14 and 18 years of age.  However, crimes are most often committed by 16 and 17-year olds.  Children even younger than 14 come into conflict with the law as well.  The rate of crime committed by individuals under 14 is on the rise and frequently preceded or directly followed by neglect, abandonment and the disruption of normal schooling.  Males make up the vast majority of juvenile offenders (98%) and delinquency more commonly occurs in urban, as opposed to rural, areas.  Crimes are most often committed against property (up to 90%) and a smaller number of offenses involve violence directed toward other individuals or general peace and order. 

The citizens of BiH are asking themselves why juvenile delinquency is currently increasing.  One factor is undoubtedly the difficult economic situation, but is this the only cause? 

Socially unacceptable behavior among children must be viewed in its socio-cultural context.  This takes into account factors such as climate and geographic location, natural disasters and wars, economic conditions, poverty and unemployment, urbanization, migration, the role of the family, quality of schools, common recreational activities and the influence of the mass media. 6 A particular social environment and the general state of a society constitute decisive behavioral factors.

Ms. Biljana Milošević, a Senior Research Assistant at the University of East Sarajevo’s Department of Sociology confirmed these findings.  “We have noted this problem, but have not analyzed it in detail.”  She pointed out that “as a country suffering from various socio-economic complications, the existence of juvenile delinquency is not surprising.  BiH is an unstable country with frequent migration and separated families – in both the moral and economic sense of separation.”

Milošević argued that “psychological instability is a result of difficulty in adapting to certain living conditions and situations.  When behavioral changes occur, a variety of disorders can bring about deviance.  Social or external factors play an important role in the sociology of juvenile delinquency.  These include family, school and the mass media, among others.” 

Media and Cooperative Efforts to Prevent Juvenile Delinquency

Keeping a broad definition of juvenile delinquency in mind, one can easily comprehend that this is a complex issue.  We can roughly define juvenile delinquency as any youth behaviors classified as antisocial or in violation of social norms that bring about a spontaneous or organized action by the general population to protect their own values and curtail the behavior of the delinquents.  8 This definition lends itself to a variety of interpretations and makes scientific research that objectively examines juvenile delinquency almost impossible.  When practitioners are searching for effective means to combat this issue, they should not forget the important contribution which the media, or more specifically, investigative journalism has to offer.   

When the media presents information about juvenile delinquency, they call for preventative measures, provide public information and analyze the events that occurred.  This was evident following Denis Mrnjavac’s murder in 2008.  The primary perpetrators of this act were minors.  While the politicization of events in BiH is common in the media, it was generally avoided in the Mrnjavac case.    In the past few years, it has not been possible to say that instances of homicide, conflict and juvenile delinquency were correctly reported.  A major problem is the lack of detailed analysis or a study of the causes of this phenomenon.  Only a few articles examine violence and security in BiH or look for correlations between cause and effect.  Essentially, the media has only offered information about certain incidents and provided references to the responsible ministry or police force.  Also missing is serious research that examines the institutions charged with preventing juvenile delinquency and the results of their work.  Despite a national strategy seeking to combat juvenile delinquency (Official Gazette BiH, Issue 14/08) that defines objectives, activities and stakeholders, the media has proven reluctant to contact authorities and provide objective reporting.  The information presented to the public is generally sensationalized in attempts to sell newspapers and improve television ratings.  Such reporting only spreads fear and panic among BiH’s population.  An analytical overview of the situation, critical reviews and suggestions for an eventual solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency are necessary.  Concurrently, such a comprehensive approach could eventually produce the desired preventative outcomes.  If the BiH public is aware of this problem, people will be aware that anyone can be a victim.  More importantly, they will learn about effective responses when witnessing acts of juvenile delinquency.      

It is objectionable that the media acts so passively when charged when monitoring the legislative framework applied to juvenile delinquents.  In 2010, the RS adopted a law on the treatment of children and juveniles in criminal proceedings (Official Gazette of the RS, Issu 13/10).  The same law is currently undergoing the process of parliamentary approval in the Federation of BiH.  This development is to be applauded as it represents the first time when the judicial system will have laws that combine substantive and procedural provisions related to minors.  This surely deserves the attention of the media as the main provider of information to citizens.     

Dr. Kržalić believes that police forces are primarily responsible for the maintenance of public peace and order.  However, they can not substantially increase security levels alone.  Other segments of society must be incorporated if juvenile delinquency is to be effectively combatted.  “Prevention requires the participation of the entire society.  Pedagogical and educational institutions, the police, the judiciary, prosecutors, lawyers and others must participate.  Normal people should take an active role in maintaining public safety,” Dr. Kržalić said.  

Within the NGO sector, organizations such as Dosta, Front and Revolt receive adequate media attention that could help further publicize this problem.  Protests planned by these groups were directed toward the BiH authorities in an attempt to inform public officials about rising insecurity in BiH and demand urgent action.  In addition to protests, these organizations distributed posters and pamphlets and painted graffiti in an attempt to deliver the message that anyone can become a victim at anytime.  

The current, rising rate of juvenile delinquency is a social problem that is on the minds of many BiH citizens.  Until the responsible authorities realize that a combination of legislation, prevention, alternative measures, institutional treatment, application of criminal law for minors and a sustainable support system for delinquents is necessary, we will not be able to tackle this issue in systematic terms.  Individual citizens must do their part and not stand by as passive observers.  This will allow us to all enjoy a higher level of security, while curbing the destructive behavior that delinquents inflict upon society and themselves.       



1 – Vladimir Obradović: Delinkventno ponašanje, KJU „Porodično savjetovalište“ Sarajevo, Projekat realizovan uz podršku Fonda otvoreno društvo BiH, Gradske uprave grada Sarajeva, Ministarstva za rad, socijalnu politiku, raseljena lica i izbjeglice Kantona Sarajevo, TDP, 2008, str. 17.

2 – Krivični zakon Bosne i Hercegovine, (Službeni glasnik Bosne i Hercegovine br. 3/03, 32/03, 37/03, 54/04, 61/04, 30/05, 53/06, 55/06, 32/07, 8/10)

3 – Minimalna pravila UN-a o sprovođenju maloljetničkog prestupništva – „Pekinška pravila»

4 – “Nakon punoljetstva prepušteni sami sebi”, Saida Mustajbegović, Oslobođenje, 01. Avgust 2010. godine, pp. 8-9

5 – HYPERLINK “http://www.tuzla-x.ba/Izdvojeno/u-odjelu-za-maloljetnike-kpz-a-tuzla-80-povratnika-u-krivina-djela.html

6 – Dr Milanka Miković: Maloljetnička delinkvencija i socijalni rad, Magistrat, Sarajevo, 2004, str. 75

7 – Problematika maloljetničke delinkvencije u velikoj mjeri je izražena unutar zemalja u razvoju, što potvrđuje i VIII kongres OUN za prevenciju kriminaliteta i tretman izvršioca održan 1990.godine u Havani (Siegel, Senna, 1994.godine). Na ovom kongresu je konstatovano da su mladi kao populacijska skupina u stalnom porastu kao i rapidno povećanje stope prestupništva uopće u svijetu. A osnovni razlozi leže u naprijed navedenim socio-kulturnim prilikama, koje su, svakako, mnogo „nesređenije“ u zemljama u razvoju, ili zemljama u tranziciji (kojima pripada Bosna i Hercegovina).

8 – Mr. sci. Elmedin Muratbegović, Fakultet za kriminalistiku, kriminologiju i sigurnosne studije: Politika suprotstavljanja maloljetničkoj delinkvenciji – od ideala do stvarnosti; objavljeno u sklopu Projektnog istraživanja: Vladimir Obradović, Delinkventno ponašanje, KJU „Porodično savjetovalište“ Sarajevo, Projekat realizovan uz podršku Fonda otvoreno društvo BiH, Gradske uprave grada Sarajeva, Ministarstva za rad, socijalnu politiku, raseljena lica i izbjeglice Kantona Sarajevo, TDP, 2008, str. 331.