Social Challenges: Age

Youth between the ages of 15 and 19 years have the most significant impact on the trends and rates of crime and victimization in Canada. Youth in this age group are at greater risk for both victimization and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Youth as victims

Youth in Canada are more likely than adults to be the victims of both violent crime and personal theft – 40% are victimized, compared to 25% of the general population.1 Female youth experience even more violence than do young men, largely due to their increased risk of being victimized by sexual assault. Youth are also more likely than those over the age of 20 to be injured as a result of a violent incident. However, despite being victimized more often than any other age group, 77% of all crimes against youth are never reported to police, and for crimes of personal theft and sexual assault against youth, this rises to 82%.


Youth as offenders

The overall number of youth being charged in Canada is 21% lower than it was a decade earlier. However, the rate of violent youth crime is 41% higher than it was a decade ago, and the national rate of violent crime by female youth is also increasing.2 (By comparison, the rate of violent crimes committed by adults is 4% lower than it was a decade ago.) Statistics Canada reports that of all age groups, youth aged 14 to 19 are at the greatest risk of committing both property crimes and violent offences.

The effect of youth crime on Canadian crime trends

The overall crime rate in Canada rose steadily from 1960 to 1990, it peaked in 1990/91, then started dropping throughout the 1990s.3

Crime Rates

These fluctuations are attributed in part to the "baby-boom" and "baby-boom echo," where the proportion of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 was very high for many years before it dropped sharply – by 18% – in 1991.4

Despite decreases in both the proportion of teens aged 15 to 19 and crime rates in the 1990s, overall rates of violent crime are still three times higher than they were in the 1960s, and rates of property crime are twice as high.5

It is estimated that 5% to 10% of teens aged 15 to 19 account for as much as 50% to 70% of all juvenile offences in Canadian communities.6,7 Research shows that factors related to social upbringing and living experiences differentiate those youth who get into limited trouble with the law, from those who are persistent young offenders. Persistent young offenders are more likely to have experienced various risk factors during their childhood, such as living in poverty, a history of family violence, and disruptive behaviour in school.8

It is evident that the complex nature of youth crime cannot be addressed by the criminal justice system alone. Recent changes to youth justice in Canada – through the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) which was implemented in 2003 – emphasize the need for community involvement and early prevention efforts.9 However, practical challenges and implementation limitations are often raised in relation to the YCJA. (See also "Youth Criminal Justice Act" in Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin, No. 8, Spring 2004; the Saskatoon Roundtable on this website; and "Young offender legislation in Canada: A commentary" by Colleen Anne Dell.

Approaches based on crime prevention through social development address many of the factors which contribute to persistent youth offending, and demonstrate the importance of investing in kids early on to prevent crime later in life.

The Social Interventions section of this website provides many examples of social development programs that target specific risk factors in children and youth. Some projects – such as a trial Multisystemic Treatment (MST) program in Ontario – focus on youth at particular risk. But whether focused on improving the social conditions of young children or teens, many of these programs have been shown to reduce crime and improve the overall quality of the young people's lives.

Other Social Challenges

    Social exclusion
    Well-being of Aboriginal People