Recruitment of children in criminal activities, mostly by criminal gangs, is on the rise in the country, according to several experts and statistical databases.
The majority of these juvenile delinquents are street children who get initiated into the world of crime through drug abuse, said experts.
“Street children are getting engaged in criminal activities – in most cases without their knowledge. There is an organised syndicate of criminals who are working behind it and mainly forcing these children into committing crimes,” said Wahida Banu, executive director of Aparajeyo Bangladesh.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, there are around 40 million children in the country between the age of 5 and 17 years. Among them, around 1.3 million children are engaged in hazardous jobs, 70% of whom are also involved in criminal activities due to poverty.
As Bangladesh observes National Child Rights Week 2016 from September 29 to October 5, sources at the Ministry of Home Affairs say around 44% of the street children in the country are involved in drug peddling, 35% are involved in picketing, 12% in mugging, 11% in human trafficking and 21% in other criminal activities.
According to the Department of Narcotics Control, nearly 550,000 children are addicted to drugs and around 30% of them are engaged in criminal activities to fuel their addiction.
The Dhaka Tribune recently visited the slum in the capital’s Karwan Bazar area where children of different ages were found taking drugs – sometimes in broad daylight.
The scenario is similar in most of the slums in Dhaka, and they get away with it by paying bribes to law enforcers, according to sources.
However, when asked about it, Tejgaon police station OC Mazharul Islam refuted the allegation. “We do not tolerate any illegal activities, especially drug-related activities. We regularly raid the areas vulnerable to drug dealing and make arrests,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Meanwhile, according to children’s rights watchdog Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), 18 children aged between 12 and 17 years were arrested while carrying firearms, 5 in the same age range for murder, 6 for drug peddling, 26 for rape, 18 for robbery and theft and 33 for participating in political violence in 2015.
Besides, 14 children aged between 12 and 17 years were convicted for sexual harassment by mobile courts.
Sources say seasoned criminals recruit street children because they are difficult to trace.
In one such case, 15-year-old Deen Islam was arrested in Sutikhalpar area in Jatrabari on September 30, 2013 with 25 yaba pills.
Police produced him in court but he was able to secure bail and got out of prison on October 29 that year, a man named Abul Malek acting as bail guarantor in the case.
However, shortly after securing bail, both Deen and Malek went into hiding and have yet to be found, sources said.
In the case document, Deen’s address in Dhaka was listed as Jatrabari, while his permanent address was mentioned to be in Kishoreganj. But this information was later found to be false.
Court sources said such cases are very common as street children rarely have permanent bases and can go into hiding without leaving a trace.
In a bid to try such cases, a juvenile court was formed in Dhaka on October 4 last year where drug-related cases are given top priority. The court currently has 428 cases on trial, of which 140 are drug-related, sources said.
“Since most of the accused are street children, they are difficult to get a hold of once they secure bail. Finding witnesses in these cases is also difficult, which is why verdicts are getting delayed,” said Md Shahabuddin Miah, assistant public prosecutor at the juvenile court.
“But we are doing our best to get the verdicts out,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“The street children get involved in crime because they have no shelter and grow up in poverty. The government must ensure shelter and education for these children to stop them from becoming criminals,” said BSAF Director AS Mahmood.
When contacted in this regard, State Minister of Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki said the ministry was working on this issue. “Children who are involved in crime will be brought under punishment,” she said.