Juvenile delinquency has long been a problem in most countries, and as such, it is an important part of criminology. Delinquency refers to a juvenile’s unwelcome omission, behavior, or character qualities that are not acceptable throughout the community. Juvenile delinquents are thus described as children under the age of 18 who come into contact with the justice system. In other words, juvenile delinquency applies to a person who is under the age of 18 and does not follow the rules. Youth abuse is a serious contemporary problem. Theoretical explanations of the underlying reasons for violent delinquency have primarily focused on males and significantly ignore females and this is attributed to a tendency to perceive violence as a phenomenon for the men. Nonetheless, this is inconsistent with the results of self-report researches. As further elaborated by Maguire and Pastore (1997), such studies of self-reported non-adherence to the law find gender ratios within the range of 1.1 to 5.3, and this is dependent on the specific assaultive, and aggressive crime measured. With such ratios, it is evident that despite the substantial gender gap, girls are as well involved in a considerable amount of delinquency. Participation of girls and juveniles in misconduct has historically been common in most cities of the world, and the reasons for engaging in such unwelcome behaviors vary. The paper assesses the concept of girls and juvenile delinquency in urban Canada during late 19th and early to the mid-20th century.
Different features characterized adolescence among most working-class girls living in urban Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. The aspects included completion of schooling, low paid jobs, and high levels of independence as well as sexual experimentation. Due to the rapid social change during that period, the traditional family arrangement that bound girls was exceedingly strained. Girls and juveniles were increasingly resisting authority of parents over housework and contributions to the household economy, and portrayed a precocious attitude regarding sexuality, and thus, the rate of delinquency was extremely high.
Structure of the Research Paper
In discussing the above argument, the research paper is structured or divided into various sections. The first section provides a background to the topic. Next is a theoretical framework for the concept of juvenile delinquency. In this part, misconduct will be defined, and further exploration of the idea of gendering delinquency will be offered. Besides, theories of juvenile delinquency will be provided, and the relevance and applicability of each to the concept of juvenile delinquency in urban Canada will be assessed. The next section will discuss the family system in Canada (1880-1940), and this will be linked to how it significantly contributed to girls and juvenile delinquency in the country. The next part will discuss the established Juvenile Delinquents’ Court and how it addressed the social problem of law breaking. The paper will then offer a conclusion that will reiterate the major points discussed and further explore the implications of the argument raised.
Background to Girls and Juvenile Delinquency in Urban Canada (1880-1940)
During the early 19th century, concerns were growing regarding the overpopulation of the streets by urban Canadian youth. The period between the late 1800s and early 1900s was marked by huge numbers of immigrants flocking to Canada mainly as the country’s officials welcomed Chinese and European migrants to help in building the Canadian Pacific Railway, work as servants for the nation’s elites, and populate Western Canada. With the difficulties in crossing the Atlantic Ocean, many adults lost their lives, and as such, the other family members who survived, including very young children, faced considerable hardship upon reaching Canada. The only way to ensure survival was to work long hours. In this sense, immigration, industrialization and urbanization expanded the urban poor.
Besides, youth who were unable to find positions in industries ended up in the streets of urban centers where they did odd endeavors such as shoe shining, fuel foraging and engaging in other activities. The possibility of these youth to engage in traits that the society considered unwelcome, criminal or delinquent was therefore inevitable. The likelihood was also increased by the significant change in ideologies of the middle-class regarding the family, children, and childbearing during this period of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Another aspect prevalent during this era was the fact that child labor was common in Canada, Europe as well as the US. However, this notion changed in the mid-nineteenth century when children were required to obey and submit to the male patriarch and also to be nurtured and protected. The rearing of children came to be considered a moral responsibility needing attention and care and as such, middle-class individuals during this period had the conviction that children and the youth were not to be left on their own. Therefore, children roaming the streets of urban Canada unattended would be in trouble as a result of ‘parent neglect.’ The era was also marked by the emergence of child savers who fully opposed neglect and mistreatment of children by working-class adults. Also, the concept of “juvenile delinquency” became widespread, and it was considered a social problem; one associated with and used to refer to immigrant and lower class children who were not supervised by parents, and not to forget those children and adolescents engaging in criminal endeavors.
The concept of juvenile delinquency entailed young individuals in trouble with the law and negative or immoral traits that differed from the morals and values of the middle as well upper-class Canadians, for instance, panhandling and intoxication. As further explained by Sangster (2010), delinquency among girls entailed such behaviors as compulsive sexuality, nymphomania, hunger for power, incestuous desires, rebellion, narcissism, latent homosexuality, self-hatred, and also hostility. According to experts, the origin of delinquency was either in neurotic or environmental factors. The two causes were presumed to more likely combine to detrimental levels in the working and other under-classes.
There were concerns that the immigrant and working-class lifestyles negatively influenced the morality of youth and children. As a result, two significant middle-class movements emerged. The groups made clear the definition as well as treatment of youth delinquency. First, there was the creation of Children’s Aid Societies and other related organizations meant to protect children. The organizations had the sole purpose of speaking up for children and youth considered victims of parental neglect. The second movement that emerged was a group of upper-class women and middle-class reformers, which was known as the ‘Child Savers.’ The underlying belief of this latter group was that youth behaving contrary to moral and socially-accepted values were fundamentally disadvantaged who were also different from the hardened adult criminals. Therefore, these reformers were convinced that the wayward children and youth required proper guidance as opposed to the harsh punishment imposed in adult institutions. In other words, instilling discipline, a hearty work ethic, as well as morality in the working class and poor children and youth, was paramount in helping them change their ways to the best. It was for this reason that the 1908 Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) placed deviant children in reform schools rather than putting them in the criminal confines meant for hardened adult offenders.
Despite the endeavors of the organizations, Silcox (2016) explains that it would be wrong to assume that the activities of these reformers and agencies were naturally altruistic. Even though concerns about the welfare of immigrant children and those from lower class in Canada grew, the most significant driving force for the organizations was the anxiety from the imminent threat to the social order in the country.
This section provides a framework that will ease the discussion of the concept of girls and juvenile delinquency in urban Canada. The idea of misconduct is first elaborated and is described to include any behavior that goes against the socially and morally accepted traits. In addition, deviant acts are considered to be against the law, hence any individual (juvenile) engaging in such risks the appropriate punishment. Historically, the expression ‘juvenile delinquency’ in most parts of the world, i.e., Europe, the US, and Canada was used to single out the suspicious and unwelcome activities of lower-class children occupying the growing cities.
Criminologists, psychologists, and sociologists have considered juvenile delinquency to be debatable topic for a long time. The discussion on this issue has produced many concurring and opposing arguments, with numerous researchers focusing on the real cause of misconduct which are often explained through various theories that range from classical to contemporary ones. It is necessary to have distinct and flexible theoretical perspectives on causes of these crimes committed by the youth, due to the changes in lifestyle that consequently affects the socio-cultural status of many societies in the world.
Theories of Juvenile Delinquency
Different theories attempt to investigate and explain the existing trends in juvenile crime. Some theorists have linked the crimes with such factors as gender, race, and poverty, which is a feature of poor socio-economic status. Other explanations associate youth crime with childhood events like physical or sexual abuse that individuals experienced. Another significant aspect which has offered a suitable thriving ground for juvenile crimes is influence from a peer group, and as such, some theories available are greatly associated with this cause. In addition, authorities have been considered a cause of juvenile misconduct since they operate the systems of criminal justice. Those heading the systems have a profound influence on how the youth perceive them, and as such, any actions by the authorities have a considerable impact on how young offenders view them.
Some of the most significant theories explaining juvenile delinquency, both in traditional and contemporary perspective, include the feminist, strain, social disorganization, sub-cultural, as well as educational theories. At this point, it is necessary to understand that some emerging theories are not yet official since they develop from preexisting ones, hence lack autonomy.
Strain Theory/Institutional Anomie Theory
The theory explains how social class influences individuals to engage or refrain from crime. Developed by an American sociologist, Robert Merton, the theory uses economic status as the basis for argument, and this greatly helped in explaining juvenile delinquency. According to the sociologist, the ‘American dream’ is the fundamental driver for adolescent misconduct since theoretically; there are widespread prospects for prosperity, freedom, and opportunity, which is different in reality. The term anomie implies that the people’s living standards are similar to a dichotomous key with various hierarchical levels that dictate what is expected from individuals in relation to what could practically be attained.
The wellbeing of a particular society is the greatest determinant of the juvenile crime rate. According to Merton’s strain theory, the society plays a significant role in instilling its positive and collective aspirations into its members and further sees to it that this is continuous. However, it is common that when many people, particularly adolescents and the youth, are denied the chance to attain their dreams and aspirations, they turn to crime. There is a rise in juvenile crimes when there are certain obstructions like unequal availability of opportunities and social status. In other words, adolescents prefer the application of forceful or illegal means to attain societal expectations. The explanation suits the emergence of juvenile delinquents in urban Canada between 1880 and 1940 since the immigrant children and adolescents, and those in working and lower classes, during that period could not secure employment opportunities upon moving to urban centers in the country.
Social Disorganization Theory
The explanation closely links juvenile delinquency to societal disorganization due to ecological or social factors surrounding the society. According to Clifford Shaw and McKay Henry, the developers of the theory, social disorganization refers to the inability of a given society to organize itself in a manner that is more socially acceptable, and that would promote harmony and general social wellbeing. A perfect example of such disorganization in the society is the inhabitants of a city that massively relocate and form other settlements within the city’s vicinity, and where there is the establishment of informal areas of residence.
When people do not live together, new social class groupings emerge, and it is not common to find low-income masses living together while the high-income earners find themselves. Youth from poor neighborhoods usually adopt immoral and unacceptable traits, with the feeling that their socio-economic status, which is averagely low, presses them. Negative ecological trends within localities are associated with higher rates of crime among juveniles. Besides, adolescent girls in such areas tend to be promiscuous, with a majority of them turning into prostitution. Similar occurrences were reported in urban centers in Canada after some European and Chinese immigrants could not secure jobs. With the emergence of low social class which comprised of the working class and the unemployed, children and adolescents roamed the streets, and most of them turned into crime.
The theory is founded on the fact that modern societies have a culture of separation with different categories of people breaking away from the major society and having their own norms and values. Differential affiliations are often renegades who distance themselves from the teachings of the mainstream society. As a result, there is introduction of the culture of taking up antisocial traits or in other words, engaging in crime. Adolescents are the most vulnerable groups in the event a group of people fragmenting from the main society learns antisocial features. The underlying reason is that such youth have a difficult time getting along with the traditional culture or way of living. In attempts to gain independence, the renegades form cults that come up with their own governance, rules, as well as ways of life. Lower-class groups in urban Canadian society emerged after breaking up from the main society. The delinquents in these groups were reckless individuals who took up with bad companions. The youth or adolescents in these breakaway groups lacked direction and significant parental training, which is considered an ingredient of youth who abide to the law.
This theory uses gender differences in its argument. Even though the emphasis of the theory is on overall crime rates among individuals of all ages, its critical analysis leads to understanding juvenile crime. The feminist theory seeks to explain the differences in male and female engagement in criminal activities. A society characterized by gender disparities not only disregards the rights of females but also causes an increased number of adolescent female offenders. In the early days, crimes committed by women and girls were often ignored. Besides, early criminologists discussed criminality based on a specific “(mis)conception” about the biological and innate features of women.
Theory of Educational Disabilities
Many have viewed this factor as non-social, but there is the need to emphasize its essence considering the huge effects it has on the society’s set-up regarding children and adolescents with problems in studying. For instance, in the American society, children with problems in studying are labeled as potential criminals due to their difficulties in succeeding academically. The argument is that such children are more likely to commit crimes (as compared to bright students) since their reasoning capacity is challenged, and therefore, the inability to make rational decisions. The theory as well applies to girls and juvenile delinquents in urban Canada.
Family System and Reform Schools in Early Canada
Family System or Arrangement
In the course of the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Canadian society experienced considerable development. With this advancement, an unusually great number of children were likely to end up disregarding societal values and morals, thus delinquents. Between mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century, many communities in Canada had large numbers of children that were neglected, abused, or orphaned. The fundamental cause of this problem was the methods used to travel, and on which Canadian growth hugely depended. As had been established earlier, the country was industrializing and therefore attracted immigrants who were in search of employment opportunities. During the period, the major travel means from Europe was sailing that took up to two and a half months. The sailing came to be improved by the advent of steamships. The challenges experienced in the course of the journey include long voyage, overcrowding in ships as well as diseases, and they all took a heavy toll, causing numerous children to set foot in the new world as orphans.
In addition to entering the country as orphans, considerable numbers of young individuals immigrated to Canada on their own. On the other side, others were sent to Canada by criminal courts or agencies. In most instances, juveniles were troublesome back in their homes, and they were sent to Canada to acquire new skills and thus secure careers. Similarly, during the early days, colonies acted as dumping grounds for unwanted members of society such as the poor, criminals and abandoned youth. Reports indicate that the immigration of children took place even in the early years of the 20th century. Between 1873 and 1903, for instance, more than 95,000 infants were sent to Canada by child immigration agencies in Britain.
In this sense, family arrangements or system during this period was characterized by child abandonment and neglect. Children had to earn their livelihood in any means possible, and it is for this reason that most became street urchins, while others turned into crime. In response, there emerged the need to provide for neglected children. It was understood that the family and the home represented the fundamental experience for socializing. Therefore, reforming the children had to start with providing adequate home life, as this would alter their environment. For instance, early legislative measures focused on caring and protecting orphans and children who were neglected by their parents.
Considering that most children had arrived in Canada as orphans, the idea of a resourceful family, in terms of care, provision, and moral support, was, nonetheless, limited. The reasons leading to delinquency in urban Canada were compared or equated to the causes of insanity and diseases, for instance, worry, hunger, and unemployment. Therefore, reformers advocated for and urged the state to provide urban spaces such as skating rinks and playgrounds where children and youth would enjoy themselves. Henderson, a Jewish anti-delinquency social worker, investigated Jewish cases of daughters and sons of immigrants who had settled along the Main. The delinquencies of the children involved minor infractions and violations of municipal laws and bylaws, and the explanation for their endeavors largely revolved around substandard parenting. Around the period of 1912, many of the cases entailed involvement of boys and girls in begging money on the street. Henderson gives an example of two girls (ten and thirteen years old) who were arraigned in court for vending papers without the possession of license. Most of the delinquent traits of adolescents in urban Canada were associated with destitution and poverty, even though other cases were considered serious and prompting the young offenders to be placed on probation.
Another cause of girls and juvenile delinquency in early Canada was going through different family settings in the course of one’s life. By the time majority of girls taken to reform schools in Ontario and Quebec turned to adolescence, they had experienced numerous family settings. The underlying reasons for such experiences include the demise of a parent, considerable transiency, and parent remarriage hence blended families. It is necessary to emphasize that it is not important to follow the route traditionally followed by psychologists. However, girls living with new members of the family had high chances of going through sexual and physical abuse. Moreover, a considerable number of incarcerated young women had a history of being in foster homes, or institutionalized, with some of them having encountered emotional abuse or violence from guardians or surrogate parents. Aboriginal girls were also reported to have undergone corporal punishment while in residential schools. Therefore, the impact of family arrangement is evident in youth portraying misconduct such as deserting.
Other than, the sons and daughters of individuals who had recently immigrated to Canada, Canadian-born children were also involved in delinquency. Children from homes considered to be in good to fair condition, and with kind and caring parents were arrested for breaking municipal bylaws. Therefore, the problem of juvenile and girl delinquency cannot be limited to immigrants. It was for this reason that the Federation of Jewish Philanthropists termed youth misconduct as an “evil” that had the potential to “sap the life of our people.” Combating and preventing the vice could be attained by first training adolescents to become “decent, clean, and upright citizens.” The federation promoted casework, particularly the mode applied by Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations in English Canada and the US.
On the other side, families in early Canada were highly conservative and with well-set gender roles. However, with increased industrialization, changes in family arrangements became evident. With the rapid social changes, adolescent girls in early Canada broke loose after growing desires for autonomy. Females had assumed a considerable role in the working-class economy of the family. Young women who worked for pay turned to be a significant source of income as well as intergenerational tension in households. It is evident that young women did not receive sufficient wages from factory work which could have enabled the adolescent girls to live on their won. However, the young women were able to indulge in evenings and weekends in the commercial amusements that were highly growing in the downtown core of most cities. In exchange, daughters who worked full time and made significant contributions to the household economy expected to be granted freedom to pursue leisure. Besides, such daughters wanted to have control over some of their salary and to buy necessities.
In early Canada, female delinquency was characterized by two most common and significant aspects, i.e. refusal to contribute to the economy of the family and precocious sexuality. The adolescent girls wanted to be free from parental control, and this was evidenced by the fact that they failed to meet expectations of their parents concerning work. The problem was prevalent in families where parents were periodically unemployed. Most delinquent girls even threatened to leave migrate to other cities, i.e. from Montreal to Ontario to gain the independence they yearned for. In addition to failing to contribute to the family economy, delinquent girls declined to help their mothers in the home. The renege youth had formed the habit of spending their evenings at dance halls that were gaining popularity. In most cases, parents depended on the incomes of their daughters. In addition, parents expressed true concern when the adolescent girls misused the advantage afforded by paid labor. However, parental concern was made less severe with the need to punish the errant ways of their daughters.
Other forms of girls’ delinquencies in early urban Canada involved forming relationships with men of different religions, which was against the traditional family arrangements. Myers (2005) gives accounts of Jewish immigrants to Canada and their endeavors that were considered to be against their way of life. For instance, there is a description of how the parents of Rachel, a fifteen-year-old daughter of Russian Jews, took her into court for desertion. Rachel was away from home for three days to be with her boyfriend, and this led to her apprehension. The case of Rachel resembled others where working-class girls decided to form emotional and sexual ties with young men of distinct religions. In most communities in early Canada, the family was highly conservative and therefore only advocated for relationships when girls had reached 18 years of age. Besides, relationships between individuals of different religions were highly discouraged. Adolescent girls often ended up deserting their homes when parental discipline threatened to end the relationship. However, most girls ended up in juvenile courts for their delinquent behaviors.
In this sense, it is clear that family arrangement in early and urban Canada was a significant determinant of the levels of juvenile and girl delinquency. The strict family rules and parental threats were great contributors to the involvement of daughters in unwanted social behaviors such as desertion. Besides, it is clear that parents failed to embrace the social changes brought about by industrialization and diversity. Since adolescent daughters were increasingly involved in paid work in factories, it was expected that they would gain a certain degree of independence and thus make their own decisions regarding living on their own and choosing their partners.
Girls/Juvenile Delinquencies in Reform Schools in Early Canada
Girls who were involved in desertion, offenses and sexual independence during in early Canada were taken to reform schools for purposes of being reformed. The adolescent girls, viewed as truant, incorrigible and sexually promiscuous, were to be transformed into ‘proper’ young ladies. The most influential reform schools were established in Ontario and Quebec. Among them, include the Maison de Lorette and Cottage reform schools. The offenders engaged in numerous rebellious activities such as passive resistance, verbal retorts, rioting and running away. In the early twentieth century, the girls were characterized as sexual delinquents or misguided outcomes of broken homes. Nonetheless, the young women were rarely imprisoned or else linked with violent offenses. Even though the girls were described as non-violent, those incarcerated or locked in reform schools (juvenile system) still ran away, retorted, and were involved in violent acts in the girls’ reform schools.
There is the need to point out that the attempts by the adolescent girls to redefine themselves and further defy their conviction were remarkable considering the effectiveness and intensity of the legal and disciplinary systems they opposed. It is clear that the girls did not cave even after arriving at reform institutions. Further disagreements were evident from most girls, with those in good terms with parents regularly urging them to request the authorities to release them early, but in most instances, this was unsuccessful. The girls engaged in rebellion by being insolent and saucy to matrons and teachers, particularly in the early stages of incarceration.
Verbal retorts by girls were directed at specific issues experienced during their stay in reform schools. For instance, religious restraining in Quebec was highly retorted by the girls. The ‘inmates’ were required to observe the piety portrayed by nuns in Catholic institutions and thus act in sexual repression, obedience as well as conformity. Another aspect opposed by the adolescents at the reform school that was previously a convent was the austere environment that was meant to promote meditation of religious vows. For instance, conversing while working was prohibited and if one felt the urge to talk; they were only allowed to recite the rosary endlessly. In the reform schools, the girls tried to explain their situation, with most justifying their running away to violence, sexual abuse and unhappiness. Besides, others, particularly the incest victims failed to differentiate between sexual delinquency and sexual abuse in the past. Most of the sexual violence victims were well aware of the negative and unsettling impact the abuse caused in their lives.
Other girls who opposed their casting out to reformatories utilized indirect or passive argument rather than direct resistance. Among the daily acts of opposition applied by the girls were mundane and muted. The approaches matched tactics, i.e. foot-dragging, silence, gossiping and professed ignorance that individuals resort to as rebellion means, “which enables people to avoid direct confrontation with authority,” whenever they face a powerful and repressive antagonist. In the reform schools, a fine and overlapping line existed between resistance and accommodation as some girls followed the regulations with hardly disguised contempt or reluctance. Nonetheless, passive resistance did not always work as upon being noticed, incarcerated girls could have their sentence prolonged.
The most pronounced form of resistance by the girls in reform schools was deserting or absence without leaves (awls). The act of running away was not surprising as most of the girls were incarcerated for deserting their homes. The only issue that can be emphasized with this endeavor is that the girls were aware of the rules and associated punishment when one illegally left school. Most instances of deserting the school were reported immediately after being incarcerated, and thus, it was a reaction to the sentence.
The girls out of incarceration were put on probation with their behavior being closely monitored by placement officers. Some of the adolescent girls had the temptations to slip away and recidivate, but it proved difficult considering the experience of the supervisors in follow-up activities. However, some girls managed to remain synonymous, particularly with the help of peer and familial networks that greatly assisted in covering their tracks. Most of those successful in hiding ended up blending into street life of low life crime and prostitution.
Riots and violence was another key form of resistance. Even though it was rare for girls to be arrested in groups, as was the case with boys, the adolescent girls often formed gangs once imprisoned. Despite this observation, social workers and courts were unwilling to perceive girls as members of criminal peer groups, with the argument that young women only rebelled against family control, sexual delinquency and social isolation. Gangs formed by the delinquent adolescents were critical during violent riots. A significant aspect to emphasize is that reform schools had a purpose of teaching girls to be in control of their anger. However, penal workers asserted that it was therapeutic to vent one’s anger, with the argument that troublemaking girls sometimes turn out to efficiently have adjusted to normal life.
Juvenile Justice in Early Canada and Delinquent Girls
The juvenile court system of Canada came into operation after the federal Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908. Between late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, middle-class perspectives of morality held that adolescents who were working committed criminal offense. There were considerable societal changes as traits such as truancy, previously considered a survival strategy for families, were viewed as problematic in the society. As a result, the rates of crime for individuals under the age of sixteen increased to 124% between 1911 and 1921. Similarly, the rate of crimes committed by adults steadily increased from the late 19th century to 1970 with a notable crime wave being reported around the year 1914. The rise in adult crime rates was attributed to increased immigration, patterns