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1.1            Background to the Study

Juvenile delinquency is an intractable problem worldwide and has been increasing phenomenally by as much as 30 percent since the 1990s (World Youth Report, cited in Sheryln, 2008). Anti-social behaviours of young people have been posing a lot of problems to the wellbeing of the people in Nigeria. Citizens, researchers and public officials perceive juvenile delinquency as a major social contemporary concern in Nigeria. Juvenile crimes witnessed in Nigeria include: drug abuse, cultism, bullying, truancy, examination malpractices, prostitution, theft (Ugwuoke, 2010; Sanni, Udoh, Okediji, Modo & Ezeh, 2010).

Shoemaker (2010:3), defined juvenile delinquency as “illegal acts, whether criminal or status offences, which are committed by youth under the age of 18”. From this definition, it is pertinent to highlight the two types of delinquent offences associated with young people, herein referred to as juveniles/children. The first type of offence is a conduct that would be a criminal law violation for an adult, such as rape, burglary, robbery, etc. The other type of delinquent offence called ‘status’ offences are delinquent conducts that do not apply to adults, such as running away from home, truancy, etc (Alemika & Chukwuma, 2001; Alfrey,2010).

The origin of juvenile delinquency in Nigeria dates back to the 1920s when youth crimes such as pick pocketing and prostitution became predominant issues in Nigerian newspapers in that period. This ugly trend led to the establishment of judicial administrative processes by the colonial administrators to deal with juvenile delinquents (Fourchard, 2006).It is appalling that the worrisome issue of juvenile delinquency still plagues the contemporary Nigerian society in a serious dimension (Muhammed, Salami , Adekeye, Ayinla and Adeoye,2009).

However, the problem of juvenile delinquency is not peculiar to Nigeria. In 2007, the law enforcement agencies in the United States of America reported 2.18 million arrests of juveniles (Alfry, 2010). Alfry also reported that the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics found out that 72% of jailed juveniles came from fragmented families. According to World Youth Report cited in Sheryln (2008), the rate of criminal activity among juveniles in groups in the Russian Federation is about three to four times higher than that of adult offenders. Motivated by the increasing rate of juvenile delinquency in Britain, Juby and Farrington (2001), examined juvenile delinquency and family disruption in a longitudinal survey of South London males from age 8 to 46. The researchers found out that 29% of the boys from disrupted families were convicted as juveniles compared with 18% of the boys from stable families. The researchers concluded that family disruption was one of the contributory factors to the upsurge of juvenile delinquency in Britain.

In Kenya, Muola, Ndugu and Ngesa (2009) cited in Kimani (2010) in a study of the relationship between family functions and juvenile delinquency in Nakuru municipality in Kenya found out that the incidences of juvenile delinquency have increased in recent years in Kenya. Juvenile delinquency was found to be significantly related to family instability and mode of discipline. The researchers suggested that there was a relationship between family functions and juvenile delinquency in Kenya. Fourchard (2006) has also decried the increasing trend of juvenile delinquency in South Africa, attributing the upsurge to familial factors amongst contributory variables.

In view of the foregoing issues and trends globally and locally, many researchers agree that the foundation of juvenile delinquency is rooted in the kind of home the child is brought up (Okorodudu, 2010; Igbo, 2007). Muhammed et al (2009) have observed that family instability is on the increase in Nigeria and that the increasing crime trends among the youths may be attributed to this. Based on the foregoing, this study aims at examining the relationship between family instability and juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality.

1.2    Statement of the Problem

Juvenile delinquency in Nigeria is a major social problem which affects the whole society and constitutes a serious impediment to development (Muhammed et al 2009). In Owerri municipality today, crime is common among the young people, many of who are caught in one criminal act or the other such as examination malpractice, armed robbery, assault, rape, house breaking, forgery, truancy e.t.c. There is hardly a day without a case of juvenile crimes being announced (Nwankwo, Nwoke, Chukwuocha, Iwuagwu, Obanny, Okereke and Nwoga, 2010).

Cultism and cult related activities perpetrated by youths have been a source of fear and concern to the inhabitants of Owerri Municipality. These cult- related activities have wrecked untold havoc in Owerri municipality including the loss of lives and limbs and the creation of fear and insecurity. This ugly trend necessitated the call by the rector of

Imo state Polytechnic, Professor Anderson Amadioha, for a promulgation of a law against the scourge of cultism in academic institutions in Imo state (Soriwei, 2008).

Drug abuse among juveniles is also another cankerworm that is eating deep into the fabrics of Owerri municipal .In corroborating this fact, the Imo state commander of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) lamented that the youths were the most involved in illicit drug usage and dealing (Nkwopara, 2011).The consequences of this malady and other juvenile crimes such as; examination malpractice, alcoholism, forgery, rape, e.t.c in Owerri municipality include; social violence among youths, armed robbery, mental disorders, lack of respect for elders and other numerous social ills. In the light of the nauseating problems of juvenile delinquency in Nigeria and Owerri Municipality, scholars and concerned citizens have attributed the menace to various factors such as; poverty, peer pressure, family instability, drug abuse and so on(Nwankwo et al 2010). While recognizing these other causes, this study seeks to focus on family instability and its contribution to juvenile delinquency because “the family has a crucial role to play in the development of a conforming or delinquent personality (Igbo, 2007:89)".

Inadequate supervision arising from family instability seems to be associated with juvenile delinquency (Alfrey, 2010). Alfrey further explained that those children in single-parent families tend to receive lower levels of supervision. According to him, this inadequate parental supervision has a tendency to increase the likelihood of juvenile delinquency. Dogget (2004), has it that when there is one parent living in the home as opposed to two, it is more difficult to supervise children all the time .According to Dogget, every day activities like errands and work must be completed by the single parent, which leaves no parent in the home. Because of this, children in single-parent homes tend to receive lower levels of supervision (Sanni et al, 2010). Lack of parental monitoring contributes not only directly to children’s anti-social behaviours, but also indirectly as it contributes to exposing them to associate with deviant peers, which is predictive of higher levels of deviant acts (Okorodudu, 2010). From observation, it seems that parents and care givers are not doing much in the supervision of their children in Owerri municipal because of their numerous economic and social engagements. This scenario tends to be giving impetus to juvenile delinquency in Owerri Municipality.

Children from broken homes are more likely to run away from their family than children who come from more stable families (Uwaoma & Udeagha, 2007).Uwaoma and Udeagha further explained that a broken home has an imbalance and as a result is detrimental to a child’s socialization and personality adjustment. The resultant effect is that a child may be more vulnerable to negative peer pressure and may ultimately commit delinquent acts not committed by children from stable families where there is a balanced structure of two parents who act as good role models in the child’s acquiring proper roles (Odebunmi, 2007).

Children growing up in unstable families are at a greater risk of experiencing a variety of behavioural and educational problems, including; smoking, drug abuse, vandalism, violence and criminal acts than children from stable families (Sheryln, 2008). According to Sheryln, changes in the family can affect the levels of self-control in children. The transitions in the family structure also lead to changes in the organization, monitoring and disciplining of the children. If the changes are widespread, the resulting changes in the adolescents’ levels of self-control will likely lead to anti-social behaviours (Mullens, 2004).

Single-parent families are often financially vulnerable as compared to two-parent families. This unfortunate economic circumstance can draw these families to disorganized neighbourhoods where crime and delinquency are rampant (Alfrey, 2010). The implication according to Alfrey is that the children may be exposed to learning delinquent behaviours and they may also be enticed into joining delinquent gangs. It is the opinion of the researcher that financial vulnerability may also be a source of strain to children in single-parent families. Hence, they may not have some of their needs met by their single parent. The effect is that children in such a situation may be pushed to engage in theft, extortion and other delinquent actions to make ends meet.

The menace of juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality is evident in juvenile crime statistics in Owerri municipality collated by the Police headquarters, Owerri from 2009 to 2011.Based on the data, it shows that juveniles between the ages of 14 to 17 years committed the following offences: Murder, 1 case, theft, 61 cases, assault, 55 cases, and breach of public peace, 6 cases.

Nwankwo et al (2010) have also attributed the rise of anti-social behaviours among young people in Owerri municipality to family instability among other factors. They noted that children from unstable families have multiple behavioural problems which impel them to engage in delinquent behaviours. This, according to them is because the warmth, direction, love and protection which the parents would have provided for them are lost and then sought in anti-social behaviours such as drug abuse.

However, there seems to be a controversy on the relationship between family instability and juvenile delinquency. While Alemika and Chukwuma’s (2001) study, among other studies found no relationship between broken homes and juvenile delinquency, Kimani’s (2010) study found a positive relationship between broken homes and juvenile delinquency. As a result, this study aims at bridging the gap in studies on juvenile delinquency and also to investigate the relationship between family instability and juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality.

1.3   Research Questions

This study is aimed at finding answers to the following questions:

  1.  What is the extent of family instability in Owerri municipality?
  2.  What is the relationship between broken homes and juvenile delinquency in Owerri


  1.  How does conflict in the family affect juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality?
  2.  How does inadequate parental supervision affect juvenile delinquency in Owerri


  1.  What are the consequences of family instability on the society?
  2.  What are the solutions to family instability as it affects juvenile delinquency?

1.4   Objectives of the Study

The general objective of this study is to investigate the relationship between family instability and juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality.

The specific objectives of this study include:

  1. To find out the extent of family instability in Owerri municipality.
    1. To ascertain the relationship between broken homes and juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality.
    2. To critically evaluate the influence of family conflicts on juvenile delinquency in Owerri municipality.
    3. To appraise the influence of inadequate parental supervision on juvenile delinquency?
  2. To find out the consequences of family instability on the society.
    1. To proffer solutions to the problems of family instability and juvenile delinquency in Owerri Municipality.

1.5      Significance of the Study

This study is very significant because if the causes of juvenile delinquency are not known, then, finding a solution to the problem may become an effort in futility. Therefore, this study will be a resource material on how family instability and other family-related variables influence juvenile delinquency. This study will ultimately contribute to closing the gap that exists in studies on juvenile delinquency. In addition, this study will increase the knowledge base in criminology. It will also be useful to other researchers who may need secondary data for other research work in related subject matter.

Practically, the findings of this study will be very useful to guidance counselors and those responsible for the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents in that it will serve as a working tool in dealing with the problems of juveniles .Parents and care-givers will also find this study very useful as it will raise their consciousness towards monitoring and supervising their children and wards. The findings of this study will also be useful to the government in the sense that it will assist the government in formulating policies that will consolidate the family.

Operational Definition of Concepts

Broken home: This refers to a family arrangement in which children reside with a parent as a result of divorce, death or separation or any type of family other than one in which both biological parents are present.

Child: A child in this study is used interchangeably with the term, juvenile to refer to a young person under the age of 18 years.

Comprehensive Secondary School: In this study, this refers to a secondary school that is attended by both males and females.

Conflict: This refers to disagreements/ quarrels in the family which could result in fights, violence, e.t.c

Delinquency: This refers to less serious crimes or offences committed by juveniles (Igbo, 2007).

Desertion: This refers to the act of abandoning one’s spouse and children or either of them without the intent to return and without support.

Divorce: This refers to the dissolution of a properly constituted marriage (Njoku & Uwaoma, 2001).

Family: In this study, family refers to a social unit made up of father, mother and the child (ren).

Family instability: This refers to any family arrangement characterized by frequent conflict, inadequate parental control, weak internal linkages and a couple’s propensity to dissolve an existing marriage, even though, dissolution may not take place. Hence, a

family may be experiencing or showing signs of instability and still remain intact (two- parent).

Family Cohesion: This refers to the level of attachment and emotional bonding between family members (Sanni et al, 2010).

Family stability: This refers to a two-parent, violence free, and openly communicating family.

Juvenile: A juvenile in this study refers to a young person under the age of 18 years. Juvenile delinquency: This refers to the antisocial or criminal acts committed by a young person under the age of 18 years. Examples include truancy, theft, cultism, e.t.c. Juvenile delinquent: This refers to a juvenile who has acted antisocially or has broken the law.

Inadequate parental supervision: In this study, this refers to negligence on the part of the parent(s)/guardian(s) to closely monitor their child(ren)’s activities.

Separation: This refers to a form of marital disruption in which a man and a woman no longer live under the same roof as husband and wife.

Truancy: This refers to the act of skipping school/class without excuse.