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The BBC's Nina Hossain
"Many young males feel that violence is a routine feature in their day to day lives"
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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Gang leaders turn on violence
two boys
Atiqul and Kaiyesh: Reformed characters
Former gang leaders who carry scars from their violent playground battles are being used to try to deter other children from violence.

They are promoting a new anti-violence course which has been piloted at three schools in the London borough of Tower Hamlets over the past year.

The scheme, called simply the Non-Violence Project, is now being made available to schools across Britain.

One former gang member - Kaiyesh Miah - has now become the head boy of one of the pilot schools, Stepney Green Boys School.

Once or twice a term there would be a really big fight. It could start with anything, someone pushing someone for looking at someone the wrong way

Kaiyesh Miah, former gang leader
Kaiyesh, who is 15, said he had been involved in at least 20 fights before he was picked for the project.

He said he had been a leader of a gang known as the "Stepney Massive", which fought boys in and out of school.

Kaiyesh, who has a scar on his head where he was hit with a hammer during a fight, was suspended from school twice before the programme but is now planning to study science A-levels.

He said: "I got involved when I was about 12.

"Once or twice a term there would be a really big fight. It could start with anything, someone pushing someone for looking at someone the wrong way.

"If it happens now we try to break it up by getting them to talk."

Conflict management

Under the scheme, about 25 selected children are taken out of school for a two-day course which is designed to help them manage conflict and violence and their own problems.

The youngsters draw up their own plans to tackle violence in school and are visited for three hours a week by project staff.

Research for the project suggested that weapons were being brought into schools.

A survey of 500 pupils in Tower Hamlets found that half of those under 14 had witnessed or been involved in a fight where weapons had been used.

Atiqul Ambia, who is 15, also completed the course at Stepney Green Boys School.

People would come to school with weapons in their bag and at break time they would make a big crowd and get someone and hammer them

Atiqul Ambia
He said children used to bring in hammers, penknives and knuckle dusters.

"People would come to school with weapons in their bag and at break time they would make a big crowd and get someone and hammer them," he said.

Atiqul, who was involved in fights before taking part in the project, said children used mobile phones to call other gang members into a fight.

Teacher Roy Askoolum
Teacher Roy Askoolum: "A starting point"
"The fights would start with little things but people have mobile phones and then you would get 60 people within seconds," he said.

"The violence amongst our age group has completely gone. It's totally changed, it's only the little boys that fight now and we always intervene in those fights."

One of their teachers, Roy Askoolum, said this was a starting point.

"Once you get a few kids on your side it does start to flow and it has a snowball effect throughout the school and throughout the year."

Violence survey

Research for the project was carried out by Simon Hollsworth, a criminologist at London Guildhall University.

He said the survey suggested about 70% of young men and 40% of young women in Tower Hamlets had been involved in a fight.

He said young gang members used machetes, knives and belt buckles and that guns had also been seen.

But he said the problem should be put in perspective: "Knives are clearly a problem in the borough.

"It was evident from the survey that being able to look after yourself was an issue.

"But many young people don't carry knives and many of the people who do, don't use them."

The people behind the Non-Violence Project say it has cut violence in schools in Sweden and the United States.

Dr Michael Noble from the project said the scheme had reduced violence in Swedish schools by 30% and that good results had also been achieved in the United States.

More than a million young people have taken part in the project since it began in 1994.

He said: "The most effective way of preventing youth violence is by getting the youths to create and drive their own non-violent incentives and directives."

Following the successful pilot scheme in Tower Hamlets, 10 other schools in the borough are going to join the project.

The organisers want to bring the project to other schools across the UK.

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See also:

27 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Minister urged to tackle classroom violence
09 May 01 | Education
Troubled school appoints new head
26 Oct 00 | Americas
US school violence on the decline
27 Jan 00 | Education
France tackles school violence
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