Crime world beckons 7 lakh slum kids
Around seven lakh children living in slums of the six metropolitan cities of the country are susceptible to a life of crime because of lack of any proper mechanisms to protect them.
In the absence of any social safety nets to guard their well-being, juveniles raised in slums and streets without proper care or guidance from parents are easily lured into committing criminal offences.
According to government estimates, seven lakh children are among the 50 lakh people -- a number estimated by a Centre for Urban Studies survey in 2005 -- residing in slums in six metropolitan cities, and their numbers are ever increasing.
In exchange for very small amounts of money, youngsters are being hired by gangsters to carry or use firearms or peddle drugs. These children don't know any better than falling into such traps, and where they understand the gravity of the jobs they are hired for an empty stomach often overrides considerations.
Eleven-year-old Shawon, not his real name, is a glaring example of how a juvenile growing up in a slum can slip into a life of crime. Only three months ago Shawon used to scavenge papers in Karwan Bazar area, but now he sells cannabis on the railway track in the same area under cover of the night.
“A woman I called aunt brought me into this business three months ago,” Shawon told The Daily Star.
He makes about Tk 150 a day selling drugs to support his crippled mother and younger sister. When asked about his father, Shawon's eyes sparkled in anger. First he said his father was dead.
A moment later he corrected himself and said, He is very much alive, he abandoned us and got married again so he is dead to us.”
Kafrul police arrested two juveniles about a month ago as they fled from the scene after hurling two homemade bombs towards a sweetmeat shop at Shewrapara.
The boys, aged around 12 and 14 years, said a local criminal had paid them Tk 100 each to explode the bombs in front of the shop to scare its owners into paying extortion money.
Poor children living in slums remain most vulnerable as they easily come into contact with narcotics traders and criminals who also live in slums. Many end up in a life of crime. Many top criminals of the country like Kala Jahangir, Killer Abbas, Freedom Sohel and Sweden Aslam got started in this way.
Dr Mehtab Khanam, professor of psychology department of Dhaka University, says juveniles can not apply moral values and so they work without reasoning and opportunists exploit them.
Dr Abdul Hakim Sarkar, a professor of the Institute of Social Welfare of Dhaka University, says the ever-increasing poverty is one of the chief reasons leading to juveniles' involvement in offences.
Poor parents are so busy earning a livelihood that they have no time to guide children, he said.
Dr Sarkar suggests that a comprehensive child policy, parenthood training and developing parental associations could help counter this situation.
The government or other social organisations do not have any particular statistics about how many juveniles are already involved in offences in the country or how many are exposed to potential involvement.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police prepared a list of 336 professional teenage offenders from records in its 33 police stations in 2004. Experts suspect that the actual number is much higher.
At least 235 non-government organisations work on child rights in the country, but no one works specifically to protect juveniles from a potential criminal life.
The Director of the Department of Social Services Habibur Rahman said that since poverty pushes juveniles to criminal activities, the department provides loans to the poor to help upgrade their financial condition.
Some NGOs also provide micro credit to the poor.
There are 84 government run institutions in the country, 50 Shishu Paribar, 25 Shishu Sadan, three Kishore Unnayan Kendra (KUK) and six safe homes, with a total capacity of accommodating 10,500 children, according to statistics of 2005.
The Shishu Paribar and Shishu Sadan centres are mainly for proper care and nursing of orphan or destitute children living there. The safe homes are for girls and are based in the divisional headquarters in the country. The KUKs are the remand homes for juvenile under-trial prisoners and convicts.
However, none of these homes come into the picture to protect poor children from their exposure to a criminal life.
Sarkar said juveniles from middle and upper class families usually get involved in offences due to spread of sky and cyber cultures. They try to be adventurous like the characters they watch on television.
“Children learn social norms and moral values from their guardians and peers, but nowadays they spend very little time with parents that they don't learn a lot of things,” Sarkar says.
He cites an example that children learn to respect rules from playing games as all games have certain rules, but nowadays there are hardly any playgrounds for children.
Sarkar also blames private tuition based education for the situation. This type of education makes children dependent on others and a dependent child does not learn to take his own responsibility, he says.
Children do not learn how to make sacrifices or accommodate others as they grow up amid a sense of selfish relationships, the professor points out.
Respecting others' interests and moral values are relatively absent in the present society, Dr Sarkar points out, “ So when any thing goes against their interest, children do not hesitate to commit a wrong.”