More teenage girls joining street gangs

Social workers say girls are taking over from the boys as leaders, and some as young as six being exposed to triad culture, sex work and drugs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 7:15am

A growing number of girls are muscling out the boys in Hong Kong's teenage street gang culture, according to a charity that has been helping troubled youngsters for over two decades.

Social workers at Youth Outreach, who take in 200 children off the streets every night at their Sai Wan Ho drop-in centre, say that in their early teens girls are often physically stronger than boys and have a more mature personality, making them natural authority figures.

"A lot of the gang leaders are now girls and they are getting younger and more masculine," said social worker Ted Tam Chung-hoi, 33, who has worked with Youth Outreach for 10 years.

Every night, the centre's staff pick up children found out on the streets all over Hong Kong, especially in more remote districts such as Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O, and bring them back to the centre, which stays open from 9pm to 7am.

A few years ago, Tam noticed a troubling trend with kids as young as six hanging out late at night, all of them exposed to triad culture, sex work and drugs.

Rachel, 15, was one of them. At just seven years old, she started hanging out past midnight in parks in Wan Chai. Her parents were rarely home. "It was dangerous," she recalled as she sat at the drop-in centre. Her cousin, a triad member, ended up being the main adult in her life and at the age of eight she had her first taste of ketamine. Within a month, she was addicted.

One night, she was taking Ice in a park when police arrested her. The courts sent her to a rehabilitation centre. She was 10. "If it weren't for this centre, I would be in a bad place now," she said.

Her friend Miko, 16, from Tai Wai, agreed. "I don't like being at home because Mum and Dad don't care and they are never home," she said. Miko dropped out of high school this year and now works as an assistant taekwondo instructor, having started learning the Korean martial art when she was 11.

She said the holiday season was no tougher than other times of the year. "It doesn't matter what season it is, there's no one there to be with me," she said, "but I do have a family here."

But despite rising demand, the centre has had to scale back services due to a drop in funding. About 30 per cent of its HK$35 million annual budget comes from the government.

This month, the Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation donated HK$1 million to the centre which will pay for two more social workers and 12 more former clients to be employed there.

Of the 150 staff at the centre, 50 are former drug abusers, street kids or ex-offenders. Foundation chairman Peter Cheng Kar-shing said: "We hope young night drifters will be able to be enjoy some genuine fun and receive necessary help and guidance."

The centre hosts concerts and offers karaoke, a cyber cafe, skateboarding facilities and a snooker room.