Murder of 14-year-old highlights breakdown in society and families
On Sept. 4, a group of teenagers hacked to death Mohsin Ali, 14, a ninth-grade student from the Mohammadpur area of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The attack also left three of his friends seriously injured.
The murder was the result of rivalry between two local teen gangs — Ali and his friends belonged to the “Film Jhir Jhir” group, while their rivals were from a gang called “Voyankar” (Dangerous).
Police later raided the area and arrested several Voyankar members, while others went into hiding.
The tragic case highlights the deadly rise in recent decades of a teen gang culture in Bangladesh, especially in the cities.
The gang culture was in the spotlight in 2017 when Adnan Kabir, 14, an eighth grader, was beaten to death at Uttara, a northern suburb of Dhaka.
Police later found the murder had been the outcome of a longstanding rivalry between two teen gangs in the area, “Disco Boys” and “Nine Star.”
The revelation hit headlines in the media and shocked the nation.
Law enforcement agencies have since conducted a series of raids and arrested hundreds of gang members.
A worrying trend
The gang culture is a new trend in Bangladeshi crime and a cause of serious concern, according to Hafiz Al-Faruk, an additional deputy police commissioner in the Tejgaon area of Dhaka.
“In recent years, teenagers and young men in urban areas have been forming gangs and committing crimes like mugging, drug consumption, sexual harassment and murders,” Al-Faruk said. “They act like a crime syndicate, so people believe they have ‘godfathers’ or influential political patrons, and nothing can be said or done against them.”
Apart from arresting gang members, police have campaigned for social awareness to prevent the spread of the gang culture.
“We organize seminars in education institutes, religious places and community levels as we believe prevention is better than a heavy crackdown against the gang culture,” Al-Faruk added.
Arrested gang members under the age of 18 face prosecution under the Children Act 2003 and, if convicted, are detained in the country’s three juvenile correction centers. If found guilty of murder, they face three to 10 years in jail.
Police say there are still 50 to 60 teen and youth gangs in Dhaka and other major cities and towns, including Chittagong, Sylhet, Comilla and Barguna; the number of teen gang members is estimated at nearly 5,000.
Gang members have been accused of various crimes including hijacking, mugging, extortion, stalking, drug trading and killing rival gang members.
The gang culture resurfaced when a video that went viral on social media showed three young men with machetes brutally stabbing Rifat Sharif, 25, at Barguna Town on June 26. Rifat later succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
Police found the attackers were members of a Facebook gang, “Bond 007,” which had existed for years, backed by local politicians, and had been accused of various serious crimes.
The gang leader and mastermind of the murder, Nayan Bond, was killed in a police shootout on July 2 when two of his accomplishes were arrested.
The gang was dismantled after a police crackdown and most members fled to avoid being arrested.
Danger lurks in cities
The dangerous rise of gang culture reflects a social and cultural degradation in Bangladesh’s urban areas, said Omar Faruk, an associate professor of criminology and police science at Mawlana Bhasani Science and Technology University in Tangail district.
“Our children are not growing up in a good and comprehensive environment in their families, society or state because we are failing to raise them with moral values,” Faruk said. “A weakening family bond, lack of moral lessons in the families and schools, and an opportunist and exploitative political situation are fueling criminality among teens and youths.”
The proliferation of drugs, weapons and unhealthy recreations through uncontrolled access to the internet in cities has also contributed to the gang culture, he said, while their absence meant rural areas were largely free from this trend.
“In villages we still have a ‘community surveillance’ system, which is absent in cities. Also there is a huge wealth gap in urban areas, so an unequal and uncontrolled environment breeds social problems like the gang culture,” he added.
The academic suggests that police divide areas prone to gang culture for preventive measures, such as patrolling and building community surveillance systems.
One way out
“Sometimes our children seek pleasures in fake heroism and unhealthy recreations because their parents don’t offer them quality time and moral formation,” Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com. “Such bad pleasures develop into crimes like theft, mugging and drug addiction. This mindset of children need to change, and parents should play a strong role.”
For years, said the prelate, the Church had directly and indirectly supported children and their parents to inherit and nurture moral values, which can be replicated to tackle the gang culture.
“We run various programs for children and youths the whole year round,” Bishop Rozario added. “We have education institutes where we have student counseling and ethical formation systems, as well as clubs for various co-curricular activities. Keeping children and youths busy in productive activities can drive them away from crime.”
However, all such measures against the gang culture are bound to fail if families are not involved, warned Dr. Nehal Karim, chairman of the sociology department at Dhaka University.
“Police and the state won’t succeed in curbing the gangs if our parents and other family members don’t get involved and play their role,” Karim told ucanews.com.
“Parents must spend quality time with their children and watch what they do and where they go. A strong family bond is the best medicine against juvenile crimes.
“It is absolutely important that we make parents aware that they should become more caring to their children. We need to ensure that our society is free from crimes and doesn’t create spaces for the formation of a gang culture.”