Adverse Life Events and Behaviors of Slum Areas Adolescents


A sample of 200 male adolescents in the age range of 13-19 years (M = 16.12; SD= 1.55) was selected from slum areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad (Pakistan). To measure adverse life events, aggressive reactions and delinquent behaviors, three scales i.e., Adverse Life Events Scale (Rehana & Hanif, 2017), Commit Aggression (CA; George, 2003), and Self Report Delinquency Scale (SRDS; Naqvi & Kamal, 2008) were used. Findings show that adverse life experiences, aggression, and delinquency are significantly correlated. The negative life experiences lead to high aggression and delinquency. The results are discussed from a cultural and social perspective.


Slums or informal urban settlements are a unique environment to examine the behavioral ramifications of exposure to adverse life events. Slum settlements are characterized by insecurity, extreme deprivation, lack of basic infrastructure, limited socio-economic and educational opportunities, and high levels of violence (United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): Growing up Urban: State of World Population 2007). As noted by Ompad (2007), “slum dwellers are often a particularly vulnerable group for a variety of reasons including precarious or nonexistent land tenure, lack of urban resource infrastructure, and tenuous relationships with governments and law enforcement.

Previous research has shown that adolescents growing up in slum settings encounter a number of adverse life events, including extreme poverty, poor housing, and persistent exposure to neighborhood crime and violence, which are significantly associated with delinquency (Farrington, 2003; Farrington, Coid, & West, 2009; Hawkins et al., 2000; Sampson & Laub, 2005; Simons, & Burt, 2011). One study conducted in the urban slums of Nairobi, Kenya, for example, found a strong association between self-reported coerced sexual activity and alcohol use among young people aged 12–24 years (Mugisha et al., 2003). Similarly, Kabiru et al. (2014) found that adversity was positively and significantly associated with delinquency. Furthermore, Blum et al. (2019) found high rates of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) exposure experienced by young adolescents in resource-poor neighborhoods in low-and middle-income countries and strong associations between ACEs and depressive symptoms and violence perpetration. 

A large body of research on crime and delinquency has been conducted using Agnew’s (1992) General Strain Theory (GST). Research has generally shown that youth who experience negative life events are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors (Baron, 2009; Vowell et al., 2000; Varano et al., 2011). Cho and Galehan (2019) found that Korean adolescents who experienced bullying victimization, child abuse, and poor conflicts in previous years were more likely to commit later delinquent behaviors. Being victims of child abuse, neglect (Maschi et al., 2008; Cepeda et al., 2016; Yun et al., 2011) and bullying (Bradshaw et al., 2013; Decamp et al., 2014; Higgins et al., 2012) are all positively associated with criminal and delinquent acts in children and adolescents. Also, youth are known to engage in more delinquent activity when their peers have rejected them. (Higgins et al., 2011; Hayes, 1997). Additionally, negative life events can trigger negative emotions causing adolescents to engage in drug use (Agnew 2015). The explanation of the mediating role of negative emotions on the link between negative life events and delinquency has received considerable empirical support in the literature (Cho et al., 2019; Jang et al., 2012), concluding that prior experiences of negative life events caused a greater likelihood of delinquent behavior later due to negative emotions, for example, aggression. Angela, Robertson, Judith, Stein, and Schaefer-Rohleder (2010) found that adverse life events were associated with increased anger, anxiety, and maladaptive coping. Anger mediated the relationship between adverse life events and serious delinquency. Anxiety mediated the relationship between adverse life events and minor delinquency. Maladaptive coping strategies were associated with minor delinquency and juvenile justice involvement. Findings lend support to GST.

Preliminary findings indicate that stressful life events are more strongly linked to reactive aggression than proactive aggression (Brown et al.,  2016Fite et al., 2015), which is likely attributable to the mechanisms believed to underlie these associations. Reactive aggression is thought to develop through a lack of security and an inconsistent environment, which likely underlie many stressful life events (Fite et al., 2012). In their aftermath, stressful life events may result in an inability to respond to situations appropriately, due in part to poorly regulated emotions, which likely lead to reactive aggression (Fite et al., 2012). Within the theoretical framework of the socio-cultural perspective, the correlates of any adversity can be easily understood. This is well established that social and personal circumstances have a great influence on one’s behaviors and learning. Traumatic events expose adolescents to the risk of aggravation of depressive, anxiety, and somatic disorders. At the reactive level, anger, aggression, behavioral disorders, and abuse of psychoactive substances occur most often. In safe conditions, young people suffering from complex trauma often display aggressive behaviors (e.g., Reactive episodes of rage, aggressive or destructive behavior), resulting in significant social, educational, and economic costs (Foster, 2005; Zakireh et al. 2008). Julian et al. (2012) state that adolescents in juvenile facilities often have a complicated history of traumatic events, resulting in a significant number of biopsychosocial problems leading to reactive aggressiveness. Ang et al., (2016) examined the relationships between two functions of aggression (i.e., reactive and proactive) and delinquency, in a sample of adolescents. Findings suggested that both reactive aggression and proactive aggression significantly and positively predicted delinquency (after controlling for proactive aggression and reactive aggression, respectively), with proactive aggression being a stronger predictor. 

Multiple pathways through which adverse life events lead to delinquency and behavioral problems have been suggested in the literature. Simons and Burt (2011), for example, postulate that adverse conditions, including community disadvantage and neighborhood crime, promote social schemas—a hostile, distrustful view of people, the need for immediate gratification, and a cynical view of social norms and codes of conduct—that support delinquent or criminal behavior. Traumatic experiences and PTSD put youth at increased risk for involvement in violence, aggressive behavior, and delinquency. Youth exposed to community violence manifest an increased risk for both PTSD and aggressive/delinquent behaviors (Fehon et al., 2001), as do those with histories of abuse and maltreatment (Cullerton-Sen, et al., 2008; Boxer, 2010). Middle and high school students with histories of abuse, witnessed domestic violence or parental substance abuse engage in more physical fighting, bullying, weapon carrying, and dating violence than their peers who have not experienced such adversity (Duke et al., 2010). The etiology of this association between trauma and aggressive behavior is multifactorial. Youth with trauma histories may be at an increased risk for reactive aggression due to trauma’s neurobiological effects, such as autonomic dysregulation and easy triggering of the fight or flight response dysregulation (Gordis et al., 2010; Dale et al., 2009). Moreover, Gerson and Rappaport (2013) suggest that exposure to violence can lead to reactive aggression.

Collaboration with families and service providers is particularly crucial for adolescents with significant aggressive or delinquent behaviors. Clinicians will want to ascertain when aggression is reactive (in response to environmental or interpersonal triggers), related to psychiatric symptoms (such as dissociation or emotional reactivity), or more antisocial. Intensive family-directed treatments such as multisystem therapy (MST) and family-focused therapy (FFT) are likely to be most effective in treating aggression. These treatments try to understand the individual, family, and environmental factors contributing to symptoms and provide integrated wraparound care. Studies of MST and FFT demonstrate effectiveness in reducing aggression and delinquency (Butler et al, 2011; Sexton & Turner, 2011). It can be assumed that in slum areas, residents have their own problems due to geographical and social situations. Further, the adolescent's life span development and socialization 

The present study has been designed to measure adverse life events experienced by adolescents living in slum areas. The objective was to find out the impact of these adversities on adolescents’ aggressive reactions and antisocial or delinquent behaviors. The particular objective was to find out the impact of adverse life events on aggressive reactions and delinquent behaviors.


  1. Adverse life events will show a positive relationship between aggression and delinquency.
  2. Adolescents experiencing more adverse life events will show the high level of social, physical, and violent aggression 
  3. Adolescents experiencing more adverse life events will show more delinquent behaviors.



A sample of 200 male adolescents in the age range of 13-19 years (M = 16.12; SD= 1.55) was selected from slum areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad (Pakistan). All the participants were working as laborer in workshops (n= 70), beggars (n= 42), general stores (n= 20) and trash collector (n=68). None of the participants has higher education. Their Education Level was under high/Secondary school.


Following instruments were used to measure study variables.

Adverse Life Events Scale (ALES). It was developed by Rehana and Hanif (2017). consists of 85 items under six theoretically derived categories ‘Health-related events’, ‘School-related events’, ‘Residence-related events’, ‘Personal & Social events’, Family & Friends related events’, and ‘Natural Disasters’. ALES is a checklist-cum-rating scale on which adolescents first indicate whether they have experienced the event or not (with a dichotomous response i.e., Yes/No) and then they rate the level of the stress they experienced because of that event on a 4-point rating scale (i.e., not at all = 1, slightly = 2, to a greater level = 3, very much = 4). Total score of ALES is calculated by summing up the impact rating of all the items of the scale, and a higher score means more experience of traumatic events.

Commit Aggression Inventory (CA). The commit Aggression Inventory (George, 2003) was used to determine levels of aggressive behavior. 28 self-report items measure Social, Physical, and Violent aggression, which are divided into three subscales i.e., Social Aggression, Moderate Aggression (Physical), and Violent Aggression. Responses to this scale are based on a five-point Likert scale (1 = never in the past year, 2 = almost never in the past year, 3 = sometimes in the past year, 4 = often in the past year, 5 = all the time. For the present research, overall high scores on total and each subscale were taken as highly aggressive behavior.

Self-Reported Delinquency Scale (SRDS). It was developed by Naqvi and Kamal (2008), SRDS contains 27 positive statements regarding different delinquents' acts like stealing, drugs, lying, violence, gambling, police encounter, and disobedience. Response format is a 5-point Likert type scale which measures the frequency of committing delinquent acts where 0 = never, 1 = once, 2 = 2-5 times, 3 = 5-10 times, and 4 = more than 10 times. The possible scoring range is 0- 108, where a high score represents high delinquency. Alpha reliability of SRDS is reported to be .92 (Naqvi & Kamal, 2008, 2013). This is a unit-dimensional scale that measures patterns of Risk-Taking Delinquent Tendency (RTDT), Sex Related Delinquent Tendency (SRDT), Stealing Related Delinquent Tendency (SDT), Police Encountering Delinquent Tendency (PEDT), Drugs Related Delinquent Tendency (DRDT), and Attention Seeking Delinquent Tendency (ASDT). 


Participants of the study were approached at their residential and workplaces. Informed consent was taken. They were requested to volunteer for participation only if they were willing to do. They were briefed about study objectives. They were asked to answer all the questions with honesty, and their responses' confidentiality was assured. They were also given the right to withdraw during interviews as participants were not literate, so the questions of instruments were asked as structured interviews, and their responses were recorded by writing on forms. Although structured interviews restrict the participant from choosing the option only provided to them, this technique is useful in quantitative research. Initially, 260 adolescents were approached, only 206 agreed to respond. Six adolescents withdrew during the survey interview, so their data were discarded.

Results & Discussion

Data was analyzed SPSS 22 VERSION. Initially, alpha coefficients of study instruments were found i.e., ALES (.92); SRDS (.89); and CA (.86). There was no missing data. Further correlation and aggression were calculated to test hypotheses. Some supplementary analyses were done and have been shown in graphs.

Table 1 depicts the correlations among the study variables. It shows that all the variables have a significant positive correlation. Adverse life events are strongly correlated with aggression and delinquent behaviours.

Table 2 shows the impact of the adverse life events on delinquent behaviours and aggression and its subscales.  Findings indicated that by taking the experience of adverse life events as the predictor of delinquent behaviours the magnitude of the model fit (ΔR² = .11) revealed a significant relationship (F = 80.15, p <.001) by contributing 11% of the variability in delinquent behaviors. This implies that one unit increase in the experience of adverse life events will result in .33 increase in delinquent behaviors (B = .33). The value of Adjusted R² (ΔR² = .09) with a significant F ratio (F = 67.71, p <.001) reflects that experience of adverse life events accounts for 9% variance in aggression. For subscales, social aggression, physical aggression and violent aggression, experience of adverse life events explained 10% of variability with significant F ratio (ΔR² = .10, F = 66.55, p <.001);  9 % variability (ΔR² = .09,  F = 66.55, p <.001). and 8% of variance (ΔR² = .08, F = 60.14, p <.001) respectively.

Descriptive Analysis. To. To find out the descriptive understanding of study variables, a graphic representation of adverse life events was done. The figure shows that financial issues are the highest in comparison to other issues.

Aggressive reactions were measured, and aggressive social reactions were found highest following physical and violent reactions.

Further, graphic representation of delinquent behaviors shows that around 20 % sample has multiple behaviors. Among all, stealing tendencies followed by risk-taking and drug-related tendencies were found.


The present study's findings depicted that adolescent living in slum areas face multiple adverse and traumatic events in their lives. The most-reported events are financial crises, residential-related and peer-related issues. These adverse issues influence their aggressive reactions, and ultimately, adolescents show delinquent behaviors like stealing, risk-taking, and drug-related issues. Findings highlight the need to provide attention to the living standards of slum areas. The intervention strategies may be planned for the improvement of adolescents’ behaviors. The findings have a great social and cultural impact on existing literature. 


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About Author

Rubina Hanif is a Tenured Professor at National Institute of Psychology, Centre of Excellence, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad. Correspondence: