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Gutiérrez, J. (1967). A Note on Juvenile Delinquency: The Gamin Problem in Colombia. Contemp. Psychoanal., 3(2):173-176.

(1967). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 3(2):173-176

A Note on Juvenile Delinquency: The Gamin Problem in Colombia

Review by:
José Gutiérrez, M.D.

The term gamin is applied to a group of Colombian children who live in the large cities, especially in Bogotá, leading an unsettled life alternating between beggary and delinquency. They are children between the ages of four and fourteen, without homes or stable family relationships, who live in the streets. In Bogotá there are about 5, 000 of them. The term gamin is derived from the French and has been in Colombian usage for at least 30 years.

The gamines are characterized by their rebellious conduct which seems to have defeated all efforts on the part of the Colombian authorities and society in general to keep them under control. They mock the police and harass adults. They sleep in the streets in the central part of the city and are always half-nude and filthy. They beg, singing at the entrances to theaters, or offer to do small chores, such as taking care of parked cars; or they sell lottery tickets, shine shoes. They often play aggressive practical jokes, challenging and provoking the impassivity of the passerby. If a driver fails to accept a gamin's offer to "watch" his car, he may find the tires deflated in retaliation.

The eating and sleeping habits of the gamines are completely erratic. They beg and steal only when they are hungry. When they have had enough to eat, they play. Most of them have had no schooling. Only an exceptional few have completed the second grade.

They form gangs of five to seven children of different ages, with one of them the leader. These gangs vaguely recall the structure of a family and the leader—usually the oldest—is the one who is the most capable and aggressive of the group; the weaker and younger children feel protected by these leaders and feel appreciated when they are more productive.


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