Raskol gangs are criminal gangs in Papua New Guinea, primarily in the larger cities, including Port Moresby and Lae. Raskol is a Tok Pisin (Pidgin English) word derived from the English word rascal and is currently used in PNG to refer to gang members or criminals in general.
Raskol gangs first emerged in Port Moresby in the 1970s, largely associated with the growth of urban squatter settlements in Port Moresby that consisted of recent migrants from the rural areas of the country and their children. Unemployment was (and remains) high in the settlements, with most employment in the informal sector, and educational opportunities very limited.
Similar to criminal gangs in western urban centres such as Los Angeles, London, and Paris, criminal gangs emerged as a mechanism through which uneducated and unemployed urban youth in PNG sought a sense of self-worth and security by associating with others who share their deprivation. In a country where betel nut, marijuana, and other psychoactive recreational drugs are widely accessible at an early age, these drugs are an often-cited contributor to the erratic behaviour of raskol gangs. Widespread alcoholism due to Melanesian genetic susceptibility and cultural attitudes towards alcoholism may also be a contributor. Many PNG criminal law enforcement officials accept drunkenness as a legal defence in domestic violence cases.
Over the years, raskol gang activities have evolved from opportunistic incidents of small scale theft or breaking and entering to more organised criminal activity including serving as middlemen in the marijuana trade both within PNG and between PNG and Australia, as well as becoming increasingly politicised as the instrument of various political powers. The growth of squatter settlements in Lae and Port Moresby has led to a corresponding increase in the number and size of raskol gangs.
Crimes such as rape, murder, and carjacking are common in a city that has a 60 percent unemployment rate. The raskol culture of violent crime has recently spread to other populous and impoverished coastal areas of New Guinea, including Lae, Wewak, New Britain (particularly Rabaul), Bougainville Island, and Manus Island. In these areas, the raskol culture has merged with the local history of cannibalism, marijuana cultivation and usage, tribal feuds, canoe warfare, and piracy. Hijacking of boats and even kidnapping or murder of the owners is becoming more common. Even the New Guinean captains of small supply boats that frequent small island villages and run the risk of being beaten, robbed, or murdered for the sake of their meagre cargo of instant noodles, clothing, and disposable batteries.
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