Juvenile delinquency: No child’s play

The Daily Star September 17, 2019

Juvenile delinquency: No child’s play

The recent surge in teen gang violence has become a major concern for the citizens. The murder of 17-year-old Mohsin Ali in the capital’s Mohammadpur area on September 4, 2019 had haunting echoes of the gruesome killing of Adnan Kabir (14) in 2017—which brought into limelight the recent rise in Dhaka’s teen gang violence—and was far too menacing to pass quietly below the radar.

The Dhaka police soon got down to work and reported arresting hundreds of teen gang members from various parts of the capital, in a bid to clamp down on the juvenile delinquents. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah has also vowed to uproot teen gang culture from the capital. But the question remains, how much can the law enforcement do to eliminate this problem by arresting teenagers involved in criminal activities?

The problem of teen gang violence is as much a social issue as it is a personal one. According to child psychologist Tarana Anis, there are many facets to the problem of juvenile delinquency. One of the root causes of this problem is our evolution as a society. With time we have evolved as a society that stresses on privacy and independence; in the process, our family structures have transformed into nuclear units that allow individuals more privacy and space. With both parents working, the children are often left alone at home with very little adult supervision.

Moreover, with economic growth and improved standard of living, the parents can afford to buy their children gadgets that keep them preoccupied for hours. And with the unrestrained access to the internet, these children are exposed to a variety of contents, so much so that they are left confused as to what to consume and to what extent, often leaving them to choose unsuitable content.

The working parents, on the other hand, are not able to spend much quality time with their children, as a result of which they are often left in the dark about what the children are doing in their spare time. In addition, the lack of quality time with parents often prompts these children to seek love, attention and recognition outside the house. This in part explains their proclivity to be involved with teen gangs.

Tarana Anis further suggested that youth crime or behaviour is the result of subconscious mental instability and turmoil. Children who have been abused or maltreated may experience subconscious feelings of resentment, fear and hatred. If this internal conflict is not addressed, it can result in deviant behaviour. The children may regress to a state in which they become “id dominant”, where they lose self-control and resort to any means to satisfy their impulses.

According to Tarana Anis, the predators—in this case, “boro bhai”s or gang leaders—manipulate the psychological vulnerability of these children and lure them into the world of drugs and crime with the promise of power and recognition. The negative motivations by the predators fill up the void created by lack of family bonding and cultural values, and the children, in the absence of role models in their parents, often conform to the roles they are encouraged to play by the gang leaders, especially since the roles are strongly stereotyped as power yielding.

These children often fall victim to deindividuation, where they lose their individual identity and become immersed in the norms of the gangs they become part of. Negative social forces, peer pressure and the negative environmental factors discussed above combine to encourage these kids to internalise the roles they have been assigned to by their gang leaders.

In addition to these factors, financial hardships, lack of access to education and social services, exposure to violence, and problems related to assimilation—especially for those who have migrated to Dhaka from rural areas—with the locals also play a major role in encouraging delinquency among the juveniles and children.

According to former Inspector General of Police, AKM Shahidul Haque, the lack of effective youth clubs is also a key reason why the teen gang culture is on the rise. In the light of his experience with law enforcement over the last few decades, the former IGP said that violent crimes committed by the juveniles are often driven by impulse, where these children do not consider the consequences before committing a crime.

AKM Shahidul Haque views the ongoing drive by the law enforcement agencies to arrest these teen gang members as a stop-gap measure; he suggested reviving the youth club culture by forming such clubs in every locality with registration from the Ministry of Social Welfare, where the community, the parents and the local administration would jointly take the responsibility of running the clubs and encourage the youth to participate in sports, cultural pursuits and volunteer activities. Reviving the youth club can be our way of fixing the broken windows—visible signs of small crimes and anti-social behaviour that can contribute to the prevention of bigger crimes—to reduce and, if possible, eliminate juvenile crimes.

While discussing the problem of juvenile delinquency, Dr Md Ziaur Rahman, professor and chairperson of the Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka, referred to the American sociologist Travis Hirschi’s idea of the “Bonds of Attachment” that suggests a person gets involved in criminal activities when their attachment to society is weakened. According to Hirschi, there are four types of social bonds that bind us together: Attachment, Involvement, Commitment and Belief. Whenever this bond is weakened, people become more prone to committing crimes, meaning a person who has a family, a stable job and is proactively involved with the society is less likely to commit a crime, and vice versa.

According to Dr Ziaur Rahman, this might explain the alarming increase in teen gang violence. This also echoes the thoughts of child psychologist Tarana Anis and former IGP AKM Shahidul Haque, both of whom expressed their concern about the thinning family and social bonds as contributing factors to the rise in juvenile delinquency.

Dr Ziaur Rahman suggests that in order to address the surging problem of juvenile delinquency, we need to strengthen our juvenile centres. According to Dr Rahman, the handful of Child Development Centres (CDC) that we have in the country are not equipped to create a conducive environment for the development of these lost children. The lack of sufficient facilities in the existing CDCs have also been reported in the media in the past. Dr Rahman further suggested that the authorities should modernise the existing CDCs in order to make them more effective.

The children taken to a CDC should not be labelled “criminals” since, according to the labelling theory, “labelling and treating someone as criminally deviant can foster deviant behaviour.” Instead, these children should be encouraged to leave their past behind and start anew; these children should be given new hope. According to Tarana Anis, the parents of these children must create a friendly environment at home and encourage them to unburden their hearts. The families, especially parents, should listen to their children and allow them to express their innermost thoughts, in order to help them process their fears and insecurities.

Juvenile delinquency is everyone’s problem; it’s the society’s problem, and the society as a unit must now come forward to address this. These young victims of circumstances, if not motivated to shun their past and return to mainstream social life, risk becoming dangerous criminals in the future.

All things considered, I think the root of the problem lies somewhere in the middle of all these arguments. But this much is certain: ostracising them, excluding them, labelling them or treating them as “others” cannot be a part of the solution. We all need to fix our broken windows; and although this alone is not the only way to fix the social problem we are experiencing, we can let this be the spark it takes to light the fire.

Tasneem Tayeb is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @TayebTasneem. 


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