Monday, March 21, 2016

Bangladesh: Culture of impunity partly to blame for rise in child murders

DHAKA–Incidents of child murders are rising alarmingly in Bangladesh, with some of the most recent ones allegedly perpetrated by victims’ mothers.

Human rights experts say a culture of impunity is indirectly encouraging the perpetrators to target children. One of the most recent child murders was that of Mahathir Mohammad of Kishoreganj by his mother Salma Khatun on March 5.

Police officials of the Kishoreganj model police station informed Asia Times that Khatun, who lived with her husband and three children in Parabhanga village of Maria Union, had slit the throat of one-and-a-half-year-old Mahathir as he was crying for food.

Khatun had a history of mental depression, according to officer-in-charge Mir Mosharrof Hossain of Kishoreganj model police station.

“Salma woke up around noon and killed the baby-boy soon after by slitting his throat with a locally-made sharp weapon. After relatives witnessed the incident, they informed the police,” he said.

Salma was arrested within the hour.

On the same day, Mahfuza Malek Jasmine, a woman in Dhaka who was accused of killing her two children at their home, confessed for the second time that she had killed her two children on February 29, 2016 at their home in Banasree residential area.

That afternoon, Nusrat Aman Oroni (14) and her brother Alvi Aman (6) were found unconscious in their family home. The Dhaka Medical College authorities declared the siblings dead after they were taken there.

Initially, the family members claimed that the children had died of food poisoning, after they had dinner during the previous night from a local restaurant. But post mortem reports revealed wounds on the bodies of the children.

Later, officials from the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) brought the parents of the two children back to Dhaka from their village in Jamalpur. Eventually, Jasmine confessed to killing her children as she was worried “about their education and future”, according to RAB Director (legal and media wing) Mufti Mahmud Khan.

These two latest incidents have provided a new dimension to a growing concern related to rise in child murders. According to several child rights organizations, murders of children have been on the rise over the past four years.

Based on reports published by national dailies, at least 1,114 children were murdered over the last 49 months in Bangladesh. Of these, around 658 children were murdered in 2015 and 2014 while 427 children were murdered in 2013 and 2012.

From January till mid-February this year, nearly 40 children were murdered in various incidents.

The most gruesome of this was the murder of four schoolboys in Habiganj. On February 12, Jakaria Ahmed Shuvo, Tajel Mia, Monir Mia, and Ismail Hossain went missing from Sundrateki village in Bahubal upazila. The buried corpses of the boys were found by police on February 17.

Locals and police officials suspect that the boys became scapegoats of rivalry that existed between a gang of killers and the victims’ parents.

About the alarming rise in crimes against children, a faculty member from the criminology department of Dhaka University said children in Bangladesh are becoming ‘soft targets’ as “it is easy to obtain ransom after kidnapping a child. Often the kidnappers murder the children if they suspect that the child can identify them after being freed.”

Human rights activists say that most murder cases related to children are yet to be resolved. For some cases which had occurred in 2012 and 2013, the trial process is yet to begin.

Such has been the fate with the murder case of Tanwir Muhammad Taki, an Advanced Level student of Narayanganj and the eldest son of social organiser Rafiur Rabbi, who went missing on March 6, 2013. After two days, his body bearing severe wounds was found floating on the river Shitalakshya.

One of the suspected murderers, Sawkat aka Bhramar gave his statement in a trial court on November 12, 2013, naming the nephew of the ruling party lawmaker of Narayanganj. RAB-11, who were investigating the case at the time, had assured that they will frame the final charges against 11 suspects for the killing. Three years after the murder, the charge sheet is yet to be submitted.

While talking to Asia Times, Rafiur Rabbi said, “Most people in Narayanganj, including the investigators, know where Taki was tortured and killed and who was behind the murder. But these people were never arrested as they hail from the ruling party.”

“When criminals are not tried for such heinous crimes, it’s likely that this will encourage others into committing similar acts,” he said.

“If the government wills it, the resolution of murder cases can occur within the shortest possible time. For example, in the cases of Rakib and Rajon, their murderers were arrested and tried within months,” he added.

Advocate Towhida Khondker, director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association, pointed out that despite plenty of Acts and Children Policy, “There is little or no awareness about this among the stakeholders including the law enforcement officials, government departments, parents, and members of the society.”

“Also, most communities in the country do not know what the rights of the child entail… these instruments need to be implemented,” she said.

A senior official within the ministry of women and children affairs in Bangladesh said the government is monitoring the progress of unresolved murder cases.

To curb the alarming rise in child murders, “the government is planning to place some of these cases under speedy tribunal”, said the official.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist and editor of  Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.


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