Should male teenagers be banned from malls?
This column appeared in Arab News on Jan. 26, 2014:
By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
A recent phenomenon of shopping malls in Brazil closing their doors to young men who came in and run around singing, laughing and scaring shoppers, reminded me of the malls in Saudi Arabia that close their doors to young, unaccompanied men on the weekends for fear that they are going to harass women shoppers.
We are at the end of the summer vacation here in Brazil, since we are in the Southern Hemisphere and that means that young students are out of school and are mostly at home feeling bored. This has given rise to what is called “rolezinhos” here, where groups of mostly young teenage boys, some as large as 300-500, agree through social media such as Facebook, to meet at a certain mall on a specified day and time. They run through the mall in groups chanting humorous songs and many run up to random girls and harass them.
Unfortunately, bored activists decided to come to the rescue of these young men and defend them against elitist malls that were barring these men from entering. The malls said they were scaring customers and shop owners alike. One luxury mall in São Paulo even closed its doors 10 hours early on a Saturday a few weekends ago when a group of these youngsters wanted to come in and mess around. Activists immediately launched cries of racism and elitism since most of the young men come from poorer suburbs and are of mixed race. Some shopping centers are so determined to stop these hooligans that they have entered with requests in courts of law to get the holding of these “rolezinhos” banned on their premises.
It should be pointed out here that these young men usually don’t steal or destroy property in shopping malls, but nevertheless are a major disruption in a supposedly controlled-environment and scare both shoppers and shop owners. I don’t think that these young men should be barred from entering malls on an individual basis, but when they come in huge groups with the sole purpose of messing about then I think mall owners have a right and duty to stop them from doing so.
I remember seeing many young men being barred from entering malls by security guards in Jeddah, especially on the weekends. Even I have been stopped a few times even though I have gray hair and a.m. long passed my teenage years. It’s not fair to bar all young men from shopping malls just because guards suspect some of them may be going in solely to harass female shoppers. After all, everyone needs to go to mall on a regular basis to buy clothes, shoes, perfumes, books or whatever one needs. In the Saudi case, I think young men should be allowed in alone as long as they behave themselves. Guards can easily pinpoint troublemakers and kick them out of malls if necessary. In Brazil, mall owners have asked the federal government for help, saying they want the police to arrest the organizers of “rolezinhos” and that the parents of minors involved in such disruptive events to be held legally-responsible for the acts of their children. With the World Cup being held here in June, many Brazilians fear that these romps through malls could take on political tones and become violent and criminal.
I think it is an overreaction on the part of Brazilian mall owners. These young men from the suburbs are bored and want to enjoy themselves and get attention. Similarly, Saudi youth are also bored, especially during their summer vacation. It is a challenge for both Brazilian and Saudi societies to discover ways of keeping these youth engaged and challenged enough so that they don’t go charging through shopping centers like wild animals. Government- funded summer camps would be an excellent way of keeping the younger teenagers educationally engaged and occupied, while internships in companies could keep the older ones similarly engaged. Leaving bored teenagers at home during holidays, often without adult supervision, is a recipe for mischief whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere.