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15 April 2015, 05:00
Children in Glasgow can become socialised into gang culture from as young as 12 years old, new research suggests.
A study looking at 60 members of 21 of the city's gangs revealed violence was an "accepted part of their lives''.
Johanne Miller, of the University of the West of Scotland, spent weeks working with the participants as part of her PhD and found the gangs were not hierarchical, organised criminal groups but friends that had grown up in the same area.
She said: "The process that emerged from participants was that young people aged between four and 12 began playing in the few streets that made up their scheme - a council-built estate - and began from a young age to be socialised into street culture.
"These children have grown up hearing stories of territorial rivals and the crimes they enact. So within the child's conscious there is a known enemy, an 'other' out there who is already a threat in their minds. There is a tradition of associating your scheme as something that needs to be protected.
"They would begin absorbing street culture transmitted through story-telling and observations of older children in the area and family members. They would adopt the gang name, start using it and decide whether they wanted to fight or not. This is how they grew into the gang. This violence then becomes more serious for core members, and conflict becomes a central binding agent of the gang.''
Ms Miller said her research revealed that between the ages of 14 and 18, gang members spent four to six hours each day on the street, more at weekends.
They mostly occupy derelict buildings, parking lots, abandoned houses and factories and forests, with fighting taking place away from CCTV or regular police patrols, she added.
The research revealed a fight could start if a member entered another gang's territory and shouted their scheme's name.
"Territorialism is the conflict that creates tensions between other groups, and it separates and divides them from other young people and eventually traps them into their scheme through fear of reprisal,'' she added.
"People being hurt and dying was an accepted part of their lives, it was just another inevitable part of occupying the streets for the young people.''
However, it was found that members drifted away from a gang after around three years, with every participant saying they wanted to progress to get a job and many expressing a "real fear'' they would turn out to be worthless.
Ms Miller, who will talk about her research at the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Glasgow today, said: "They were resilient, funny, daring and courageous, battling every day with their positioning in life, the outcomes of urban inequalities, territorial violence and the turbulent lives that many of their parents lived.
"There were many times within this research journey where I had to remind myself that these were children and young people, who tragically in some circumstances were dealing with life and death scenarios.''
The researcher is now calling for them to be provided with "structural support''.
"Every young person that took part in this research discussed how they wanted to progress to a job, but 72% of them had not worked in the last year, even though two-thirds had been on three or more three or six-month training courses aimed to get them into employment,'' she added.