THE BLOG
02/27/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2014

Social Media, Youth Mentoring: Tools to Fight Urban Violence

In many countries across the Global South, urban centers are also centers of crime and violence. This can take many shapes: gang violence, sexual assault, petty theft, drug trafficking, domestic violence, human trafficking... Coupled with extreme social and economic inequality, rapid urbanization, and a young population, crime takes off and thrives, aided by weak law enforcement and high levels of corruption. This creates a vicious circle: developing countries have high crime levels, which in turn derail further development. A few initiatives are successfully reducing crime and violence in cities such as Bangalore, Cairo, São Paulo, and Mexico City. Read on and share your thoughts on URB.im.

In Bangalore, Dream a Dream helps young people from vulnerable backgrounds avoid juvenile delinquency through programs that develop crucial life skills. The NGO's holistic approach focuses on six main initiatives: sports, the arts, outdoor experiential camps, a career development program, educational fieldtrips, and mentoring. Many of the young people who have passed through Dream a Dream since it began in 1999 have gained a greater sense of confidence and self-awareness. 18-year-old Radha, for example, was on the path to quitting school due to family pressures but her Dream a Dream mentor helped her see the long-term value of education, and worked to help Radha become a better decision-maker and to take initiative in her life.

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Cairo-based Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH) was founded in November 2012 to keep female protestors physically and psychologically safe during rallies in Tahrir and Itahedeya Squares. The activist group is comprised of volunteers who patrol the squares during protests and who are trained to intervene in case of group assaults. They also provide legal, medical, and psychological assistance for victims, as well as outreach and publicity campaigns to raise awareness about sexual harassment. Through their efforts over the last two years, OpAntiSH and other anti-harassment organizations have managed not only to protect women during protests but also to change the social perception of sexual harassment: for instance, there has been a significant shift in the terminology -- these crimes are now referred to as taharosh ("harassment") rather than mu'aksa ("heckling").

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In Brazil, the government-run Centro Legal provides a wide range of services to the residents of São Paulo's deteriorating city center, which has been plagued by urban decay, drug trafficking, and violence since the late 1990s. Initiatives include social assistance to drug abusers and their families, medical attention and hospitalization for drug dependency, temporary shelter and services for the homeless population, anti-drug campaigns, and the expansion of police presence and monitoring. The program has resulted in the treatment of several hundred drug addicts, numerous training courses, and a series of police raids leading to the detention of drug traffickers. Going forward, Centro Legal will need to help in improving social reintegration and will need to question its use of forceful methods to tackle drug delinquency.

In Mexico, online social networks are extremely popular with young people, but they are also used by organized crime groups to facilitate kidnappings. In response to citizen alarm over the increasing risk of abduction, the government of Mexico City created the Cybercrime Prevention Police. Through advanced technological tools and public outreach, the group, made up of 30 police officers, reduces online crimes such as child pornography, human trafficking, fraud, extortion, and cyberbullying. Twenty officers are dedicated to identifying and preventing online crime while the other 10 educate the community on cybercrime prevention and reporting. Appropriately, the Cybercrime Prevention Police has also created Facebook and Twitter accounts where the public can report illegal online activities.

From youth mentoring to social media crime reporting, concerned governments and engaged citizens are using a diverse set of tools to address the causes and effects of crime and violence in cities. Join us on URB.im to learn more about the initiatives discussed above and share your thoughts.

Photo credits: Heba Farouk and Nilton Fukuda