Graffiti of juvenile gangs
Graffiti of juvenile gangs

The Tiktok ‘sensation’ known as Ofu Bai appears on screen sometimes addressing Sunny Leone, sometimes wiping his shoes on someone’s collar for teasing his girlfriend, sometimes dancing and threatening his Tiktok adversaries. His hair is sometimes gold, sometimes green.

Ofu Bai’s real name is Yasin Arafat Opu. He was arrested from Uttara of the capital city on 3 August for beating up an engineer.

It was in January 2017 in Uttara that the growing menace of juvenile criminal gangs in the city first came to light, with the murder of Adnan, a Class 8 student of Trust School and College. In the latest incident, clashes between two juvenile gangs in Kamrangirchar left one dead and two with stab injuries.

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The law enforcement agencies have said that the criminal tendencies of these young boys have not lessened at all. On the contrary, they are growing in strength. They are even using the Tiktok app to create new gangs. A case had been filed in Bhatara against such gang members for raping a young girl after luring her with promises of making her a Tiktok star. These young gangs are getting involved in militancy too.

According to UNICEF, there are 36 million (3 crore 60 lakh) adolescents in Bangladesh. The police headquarters have records of juvenile crime from 2012. That year, 751 children and teenagers were accused in 484 cases. In the first 6 months of the current year, 1,191 were arrested in 821 cases. Most of these adolescents are arrested in drug, murder and rape cases and sent to the correctional centres, said sources in the social welfare directorate.

An intelligence agency under the home ministry, in a report of 2017, stated that 12 juvenile gangs were active in and around Dhaka city. There are allegations of political leaders being connected to eight of these gangs. The agency said there were at least 35 more such gangs around the country. The home ministry sent this report to the education ministry and all the law enforcement agencies, asking for measures to be taken.

The juvenile crimes at that time in erstwhile East Pakistan were mostly theft and then pick-pocketing. Research shows that now they are increasingly getting involved in drugs, murder, rape and fighting

Why are these young ones clashing with the law? Is the state, the society or even the families there for these young teenagers? Jagannath University’s professor Sabrina Sharmin discussed the matter at length in her research titled ‘Dynamics of Juvenile Delinquency and its Implication, An Anthropological Study’ (2017).

Speaking to Prothom Alo, she said that family, society, religion and friends can keep juveniles away from crime. This is called social control. This control has been destroyed. In the past if young ones were seen smoking in public, the elders of the locality would admonish them. Now the elders are scared of them.

She went on to say that the parents often falter in keeping up with technology and globalisation. They have no idea of how their children are spending their time, how they are using their digital devices. Also, even if there is detailed research on why these juveniles are getting involved in crime, the government’s implementing agencies have no interest in this. So despite good laws and policies, these are not 7implemented.

The first research of this region that has been found on why adolescents get involved in crime, dates back to 1960. A research titled ‘Studies in Juvenile Delinquency and Crime in East Pakistan’ was carried out for the police by Salahudin Ahmed, researcher of the College of Social Welfare’s research centre. There have been around 70 more studies on the issue since then. The juvenile crimes at that time in erstwhile East Pakistan were mostly theft and then pick-pocketing. Research shows that now they are increasingly getting involved in drugs, murder, rape and fighting.

The policy and the law

After independence of the country, The Children’s Act was promulgated in 1974. In 1990 Bangladesh signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Then a new law for children was enacted in 2013. Also, three policies regarding children had also been drawn up. There was the National Children Policy 1994. In 2013 another policy under the same name was created. This policy also separately dealt with the issue of development of young boys and girls. Then there is also the National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010.

The Children’s Act 2013 maintains that cruelty and oppression towards children and misguiding them will be considered a criminal offence. It also mentions a high-powered child welfare board. The board, headed by the social welfare minister, also includes two female members of parliament nominated by the Speaker, one from the treasury bench and one from the opposition, and representatives from 17 ministries and divisions, including the home ministry, and from various government and non-government agencies and organisations.

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When asked what this board had done so far in preventing juvenile crime, social welfare secretary Mohammad Zainul Bari told Prothom Alo that the child welfare board held meetings once or twice a year. The social welfare ministry calls the meeting and the other ministries and divisions attend.

They had not conducted any research about children becoming involved in crime. He feels that if all children could be brought under the umbrella of education and if the role of institutions like Shishu Academy and Shilpakala Academy could be strengthened, then the children’s clashes with the law would lessen. Many quarters need to be involved in juvenile development.

Children overlooked in budget

From the 2016-17 financial year, seven ministries began to have separate budgets as part of the national budget for children. Now 15 ministries include such separate budgets. The budgets are increased annually. For instance, in 2018-19, Tk 656.50 billion (Tk 65 thousand 650 crore) was allocated to the ministries. The next fiscal this allocation was Tk 801.90 billion (Tk 80 thousand 190 crore). This, though, includes a large allocation for education, health and sports.

The ministries give lengthy accounts of work in their budget evaluation. Many of them even say they were unable to have a budget for children. There is a lack of coordination with others involved in implementing the budget. For example, the primary and mass education ministry and the ministry for disaster management and relief, said they were unable to take up projects for children.

The health education department, the ministry for women and children’s affairs, the labour and employment ministry and the ministry of information have said that they are unable to draw up plans and implement these properly due to lack of skilled workforce. The public security division also said they lacked in child-oriented higher training.

Chairperson of the juvenile organisation Khelaghar, Mahfuza Khanam, said the development of children depends on the psychology of those involved in politics, the government, the system of government and implementation of the laws and policies. That is where the changes need to take place. In the countries where children are given due consideration, juvenile organisations are provided with significant funds. There is no provision for government funding of children’s organisations in Bangladesh.

Less government initiative for juveniles

Of the 36 million (3 crore 60 lakh) adolescents in the country, the government has managed to do something for around 700,000. These numbers were provided by Prothom Alo’s youth programme coordinator Munir Hasan.

The government-run initiatives for children include Shishu Academy, Bangladesh Scouts and the talent hunt programme, Srijanshil Pratibha Onneshan.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Scouts director Arshadul Mukaddish said that presently 592,905 students of the secondary level are involved in scouting. The government has directed for scouting to be introduced in all schools around the country. He said they were trying to do so.

Director (training) of the secondary and higher secondary education directorate, Prabir Kumar Bhattacharya, said 125,000 students took part in the Srijanshil Pratibha Onneshan.

Shishu Academy has programmes in all districts of the country as well as 6 upazilas but is conducting training of only 12,500 children. In some districts there are a negligible number of students, such as 50 in Noakhali and 39 in Narsingdi.

Officials of Shishu Academy, in condition of anonymity, said in many instances they were not interested in bringing children to the academy. They merely carried out their routine office duties.

There are 200,000 children involved in the Bangladesh Math Olympiad. There also students involved in robotics and programming contests.

Action only after incidents

The law enforcement agencies go into action after any incident takes place. For example, in August last year, a member of the ‘Molla Rabbi’ teenage gang in Mohammadpur posted a laughing emoji in response to a Facebook post of a friend’s death anniversary. Reacting to this, 20 to 22 members of the rival ‘Star Bond’ juvenile gang prepared for an attack, armed with knives and other such weapons. RAB managed to intercept them before they could attack. RAB’s mobile court arrested 17 of them and sent them on one year’s detention to the juvenile correctional centre in Tongi.

RAB said that they had arrested 200 young boys that year during different raids. Other than that, in Hatirjheel area alone, police nabbed over a hundred teenage boys and sent them to the juvenile correctional centre.

At the Dhaka Metropolitan Police monthly crime review meeting last held on 17 October in Rajarbagh, police commissioner Md Shafiqul Islam gave directives to identify the criminal juvenile gangs and to keep an eye of the location and movements of the gang members. He warned that action would be taken against the concerned police officers if they failed to do so.

“I was obliged to buy my son a mobile phone and he has changed completely. He would play PUBG but now he just locks himself up in his room the whole day. He uses filthy language and has started asking for money. There are so many learned people in the country. Can’t they do anything?”
Bank officer and mother of a Class 7 student

When it comes to controlling juvenile crime, there is a propensity among the law enforcement agencies and the people’s representatives to raid the hair salons. Last year the police and people’s representatives in Savar, Tangail and Magura instructed the hair salon not to give offensive ‘bad boy’ haircuts to anyone. There were videos that went viral of young boys being caught and their hair being cut.

What are the families doing?

Professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET and Math Olympiad organiser Mohammad Kaikobad feels that most families do not pay adequate attention to the children.

He told Prothom Alo that the parents are too busy earning money as they see that the wealthy are given more importance in society. There was a time when good students, singers, dancers and those who could recite well, were appreciated. Not anymore. The children have no role model to emulate. The parents are busy with their mobile phones and so are the children.

Many are misusing mobile phone and other devices. In August this year, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit arrested an adolescent and someone past adolescence. CTTC deputy commissioner Saiful Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that while playing video games, they grew an interest in using firearms. Then they fell prey to a militant group and left home. One of them was a student of Class 8.

Arrested in the murder of Adnan in Uttara, a young boy said that there was no role model for the young. He was a student of Class 11 in a school at Uttara when Adnan was murdered. He is now studying law. Towards the end of October, he told Prothom Alo that the ambition of the youth is to become a ‘boro bhai’ (‘big brother’). They are drawn to the power wielded by these ‘big brothers’ in the political parties. He said that even after the Adnan murder, his ‘case mates’ were still getting arrested for drug dealing in the area. He often sees them in processions and rallies.

Many of the young are falling astray due to poverty, parents’ separation and running away from home. There is no one to look after them.

This report began with Yasin Arafat alias Opu. He crossed 18 years of age a few months ago. After coming out on bail, he has gone back to live with his grandparents in Sonaimuri, Noakhali. He refused to speak to this correspondent over mobile phone. He has started making videos like before, along with his younger brother Antar. His grandfather Abdul Jabbar told Prothom Alo that his grandson grew up in much suffering. Jabbar had been a BRTC bus driver. Yasin Arafat’s parents divorced when he was very small and he got him admitted to a madrasa. He didn’t study beyond Class 10. He has no idea what his grandson does on Tiktok.

Suman Madhu worked as a probationary officer from 2017 to 2019 at the Dhaka juvenile court. He told Prothom Alo that during his time there, most of the cases were of drugs and teenage gangs. The court generally wants to grant the juvenile offenders bail, but in most cases their guardians could not be located. That is why these young ones had to spend long stretches of time at the Tongi correctional centre.

Many families are now seeking release from this situation. A bank official, talking about her son who studies in Class 7, broke into tears. “I was obliged to buy my son a mobile phone and he has changed completely. He would play PUBG but now he just locks himself up in his room the whole day. He uses filthy language. And now he has started asking for money.” She pleaded in anguish, “There are so many learned people in the country. Can’t they do anything?”

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten by Ayesha Kabir for the English edition

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