Aborting Crime

Last week the scourge of deadly knife crime in the UK tried to vie with the Brexit issue for space in the British polity and life. An alarming 285 stabbing deaths were reported in the year ending March 2018––the highest number of such killings within a 12-month period since record keeping began in 1946.

Critics blame the austerity measures to reduce UK’s debt levels following the global economic crisis of 2008 for the increase in violence. They say cuts in support services and opportunities for children have left communities increasingly disadvantaged and fearful. Disaffection, anger, fear and the lack of positive alternatives could also be causes of children’s violent behaviour. Desperate circumstances might be nudging children to form gangs and resort to knife attacks.

Graphic courtesy CNN

Some believe that cuts in police staffing levels have aggravated the problem. The number of police officers in the UK has fallen from 1,71,600 nine years ago to fewer than 1,50,000 last year. Some think that a diminished police force has led to low detection and prosecution rate for crimes.

“We will only defeat the scourge of violence if we understand and address the complex root causes,” said Prime Minister May. She rejected direct correlation between falling police numbers and violent crime. London’s Metropolitan Police Service thought otherwise. Boosting police funding as well as widening controversial stop-and-search powers to tackle knife crime has been recommended as a way to deal with the menace. The defence secretary has offered to send in the military to assist the police to deal with the menace.

It is a complex issue.

Needless to dive into statistics; the situation in India is equally alarming, if not worse––from petty thefts and chain-snatching to robberies, rapes, murders and gang wars, we have them all. Rapes, domestic violence, and crimes against women, is a category in itself. While the Brits have to concentrate on one type of crime, namely knife attacks, Indians have a wide range to deal with.

To look for answers, it would be worthwhile to look at the crime graph in the US in 1989 when it had just about peaked––violent crime had risen 80 per cent in the preceding 15 years. Then, in the early 1990s the crime rate started falling, or rather plummeting. The fall was so sharp that analysts ignored the drop and continued to predict worse days ahead until the crime rate stabilised at a very low level and people started walking the streets without fear.

The natural questions were: “What happened?” “Where have all the criminals gone?”

Graphic courtesy The Hindu

The answers were obvious: “Innovative policing strategies and larger police force; drug controls; aging population,gun control laws; economic growth; and a whole lot of other ever-soobvious reasons.”

Levitt and Dubner, in their book titled Freakonomics came out with an explanation––beyond the obvious ones mentioned above, and the many more propounded by experts––for the steep fall in the crime rate. They drew attention to an unforeseen long gestating demographic change that had reduced crime, perhaps more than all the other efforts put together.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the US legalised abortion (Roe vs Wade case). Levitt and Dubner explained the judgement thus: “When a woman does not want a child, she usually has good reason. She may be unmarried or in bad marriage. She may consider herself too poor to raise a child. She may think her life is too unstable or unhappy, or she may think that her drinking or her drug use will damage the baby’s health. She may believe that she is too young or hasn’t yet received enough education. She may want a child badly but in a few years, not now. For any of the hundred reasons, she may feel that she cannot provide a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.” Levitt and Dubner observed that before Roe vs Wade, only the daughters of middle or upper class families could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion.

Children born to women who wanted to abort pregnancy (but couldn’t) were likely to grow up to be criminals. There is a data galore to arrive at that not-so-pleasing inference.

Levitt & Dubner conclude: “When the government gives a woman the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in a position to raise the baby well. If she decides, she can’t, she often chooses abortion.”

In the parting wisdom on the subject, which Levitt & Dubner share in their book, perhaps India, UK and the world can find solution to the problem of crime: “But once a woman decides she will have her baby, a pressing question arises: what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?”

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