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Interior Minister: "Violence is not the answer"

Violence among minors in Helsinki has been exacerbated by the Covid crisis, interior minister Maria Ohisalo told Yle.

Mari Ohisalo.
Violence among minors in Helsinki has been exacerbated by the Covid crisis, said interior minister Maria Ohisalo. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

According to statistics released by the police, violence among minors has increased significantly in Helsinki since the beginning of last year, raising concerns about public safety.

Out of suspected crimes reported to the Helsinki Police, assaults committed by under-14-year-olds have risen from 89 between January and April 2020 to 121 during the same time period in 2021. Among 15-to-17-year-olds, homicides rose from one to six in the referenced time frames, while assaults increased from 66 in the same time frame in 2020 to 88 in 2021.

Yle spoke to Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo about the situation.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green), has the safety situation among young people in Helsinki deteriorated?

The safety situation is generally pretty good. Looking at the big picture, large sections of young people are doing better than ever. Unfortunately, there are also some young people who are doing worse. The Covid crisis, the fact that we have had to resort to long-distance learning and no hobbies, and that there have not been reliable adults in their day-to-day life, has been reflected in the behaviour and wellbeing of young people.

According to the police, more young people in Helsinki now carry a bladed weapon and the threshold for using it fallen. Does this pose a danger to bystanders?

Finland is still the safest country in the world by many measures. The resources of the authorities have been increased so that there were more police officers patrolling and approaching people. If anyone feels unsafe, they can go and talk to a police officer.

According to police, many young people say they carry a knife with them because they feel unsafe. What would you say to these young people?

A feeling of security is different for different people and groups in this society. Some people feel left out, on the fringes and like they are not part of society. That is a huge security threat to us all. We need to reinforce the message that everyone is on equal footing and a welcome participant of this society. Violence is never the answer. Help is available and reliable, decent adults are around. Our public services exist for that exact reason: so that everyone can seek help.

What concrete measures has the government taken, or does it intend to take, in order to reduce violence among minors?

Resources for authorities in charge of security have been increased. For the second year in a row, police resources are being funnelled towards youth work, specifically towards prevention. Among other things, anchoring kids through the cooperation of different authorities who can meet the challenges of young people for whom things are very difficult in society, has worked. A new collaborative body has just been set up in Helsinki, which aims to catch young people falling through the cracks. It combines cooperation between schools, social services and other authorities. We need to be able to invest more and more into education, mental health and substance abuse services and child protection. The government has already invested in all of these and will continue to do so in the coming years.

What kind of amounts are we talking about, that would adequately ensure services required by at-risk youth?

If we fail to take preventative action, we are talking about larger amounts. It has been estimated that one marginalised youth can cost society a million euros, in the long run, if the young person does not have access to education. It is better to invest in preventative services and to involve every young person. It will be cheaper in the long run.

How much money has the government invested in these efforts?

Last spring, the government invested 300 million euros in a support package for young people. Now we are putting together another one. The key is to reduce the equality gap in learning and well-being and invest in the mental health and substance abuse services for our youth. The additional budgets should bring about tens or even hundreds of millions of euros in additional funding.

The current situation in Helsinki seems alarming. Are these measures enough?

The corona crisis will continue to cast a big shadow over our society. We have discussed this in conjunction with the budget framework talks, how it does not make sense to stop investing in children, young people and the people who have been hit hardest by this crisis. That is why the government has decided to invest in many different sectors next year.

Police have confiscated, among other things, karambit combat knives from young people. Should the import of such knives be restricted?

The authorities know how many of these types of weapons are circulating compared to before. I have not yet heard a recommendation from the police about desired changes to the law. What is important to convey, is that violence is not the answer to anything. Help is available, when things are difficult.

The police in Helsinki have raised concerns about youth gangs. Why do you think we are in this predicament?

Some young people are constantly being further excluded. They feel excluded from hobbies or their education, have a hard time establishing themselves professionally, engage in substance abuse, and their social connections are weak. When problems pile up, people may seek help from others in a similar situation. This doesn’t necessarily aid anyone. My wish is for us to have authorities that young people can turn to for help.

According to statistics, young people from an immigrant background are at a higher risk of being a victim or perpetrator of a crime, than other youth. What can be done about this situation?

We shouldn’t give into helplessness. We should involve every young person in education, work life and their communities. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination can exacerbate people’s problems. That is why the government is creating an action plan against racism.

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