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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Gang crime 'due to absent dads'
Justice Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw said communities had to help themselves

The "continuing problem" of gang violence is due to the absence of fathers in black communities, Justice Secretary Jack Straw says.

He said young black men needed their fathers as role models, otherwise their development suffered.

Black girls from similar backgrounds had different attitudes and succeeded more than black boys, he said.

He was responding to US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson who said inner city violence was an economic problem.

"Gang violence is rooted in the economics of desperation," said Rev Jackson, adding that some people were "profiting" from providing guns to deprived areas.

It's the absence of fathers who are actively involved in parenting
Justice Secretary Jack Straw

He called for more investment in pre-natal care and education, rather than building more jails.

But Mr Straw, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said the problem was not due to economics.

"One of the striking things is the difference between the attitude and the success in life of black girls from exactly the same backgrounds compared to black boys."

Black girls perform around the average at Key Stage 4, aged 16, compared to the overall population, he said.

'Lads need dads'

"Black boys go backwards when they get to secondary school.

"It's a cultural problem. It's the absence of fathers who are actively involved in parenting.

"And as we know - lads need dads. Of course they need their mums as well, but there is a particular point in teenagers' development, of young men, where fathers are very important and they are more likely to be absent in the case of the Afro-Caribbean," Mr Straw said.

Mr Straw said the government had put in place schemes to deter people from getting into gang violence, but admitted "there is a very great deal more to do".

"But this cannot just be a matter for the government.

"It has to be a matter for these communities because the problem for these communities is that not only are they - the black lads - much more likely to end up in prison, but they are also much more likely to be the victims of crime than the white or non-black sections of the community."

Army career

He praised a project by the chairman of the Commission on Equality and Human Rights, Trevor Phillips, to encourage black senior military officers to mentor young black men and persuade them not to become involved in gangs and crime.

He said: "The Army is a very good career for many black and Asian people, and I don't think its an accident that my very close friend Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state and head of services there, managed to make his way in society through his experiences in the US Army."

Rev Jackson is visiting the UK to launch Equanomics UK, a programme focussing on wage inequality, poverty, trade policy, and the impact of credit and debt on ethnic communities.

He said the UK's black and ethnic communities should be encouraged to play a bigger role in politics.

"The people of colour are under-represented at every level of government."


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