M E N T A L H E A L T H
Ayaan Shams, Fairuz Shams
Rahim, a 7-year-old boy, works at a tea-stall, where he is slapped and shouted at whenever he makes a mistake, right in front of the customers. Jamil is a 10-year-old boy who works at a mechanic’s garage. His master beats him with sticks and wrenches if he messes up even a bit while working. Being infuriated at their bosses, one day, both Rahim and Jamil loot their shop’s cash register and run away with all the money.
Real life implications such as the ones stated above are abundant in our society. With more than a quarter of Bangladesh’s population being juveniles, a very disproportionate percentage of them live under the poverty line or barely above it. Abysmal financial conditions and lamentable preservation of basic rights like education, housing, medicine, etc cause the juveniles to be under constant mental pressure, further aggravated by poor living standards and very often, domestic abuse. These factors, coupled with a lack of education and proper comprehension of civility and morality, result in these juveniles engaging in delinquency.
For the rehabilitation of such juveniles and their reintegration into society, various correctional facilities, commonly known as JDCs (Juvenile Detention Centres), exist, such as the Jessore Juvenile Development Centre for Boys and the Konabari Juvenile Development Centre for Girls.
Juvenile Delinquency: An Unintended Malignancy
In Bangladesh, anyone ranging from 9-18 years can be classified as juvenile offenders if they commit any crimes or display acts subjected to legal court order. Juvenile delinquency can be termed as any persistent behaviour that can be said to be ‘outside of parental control’. However, ‘parental control’ itself is a very vague and subjective term, the parameters of which can vary from one person to another.
In his short story Chuti, Rabindranath Tagore depicted the psychology of teenagers in a very illustrated manner. According to Tagore, a person in their teenage years is very similar to a stray dog that has lost its master. He further talked about this analogy, “In his heart of hearts, a young lad most craves for recognition and love; and he becomes the devoted slave of anyone who shows him consideration.”
And that is the exact situation with premature children living below the poverty line in our country. Parents having to focus solely on earning a livelihood in these cases leave little time for the critical attention and affection that a budding child needs. Leaving a growing child unattended in this manner paves the way for radical thinking and immoral values to negatively affect a child’s rate of maturity and innocence. That is where the role of dishonest and immoral company comes in. Due to a fear of being socially isolated and excluded, adolescent juveniles tend to follow their peers’ words and instructions blindly.
Delinquent acts such as smoking, lying, cheating, and eve-teasing are instilled in the juveniles in this way. Mixing with local gangs and political parties propels the scope of being attached with delinquency to a more multi-dimensional level. In a half year of 2018, the police captured 150 youthful guilty parties, who were charged with seizing, robbery, sneaking and so on. Youthful wrongdoers guilty of theft and coercion were captured with grown-up wrongdoers who negatively influenced them.
And according to the law, the aftermath of juvenile delinquency is being detained and sent to correctional facilities.
Now, following the Child Act, 1974, three correctional facilities were established in the country, intended for the rehabilitation and psychological correction of delinquent juveniles. In theory, Juvenile Detention Centres, or JDCs, are institutions for the rehabilitation and reintegration of juvenile delinquents into society, mandated by The Child Act, 2013, which required delinquent children under 18 to be sent there.
However, news of horrific incidents occurring in these institutions are quite regular. An example would be the August 13th event, where 3 juveniles were beaten to death with pipes, stumps, and sticks; 15 others were injured.
Delinquent juveniles are supposed to change themselves for the better in these institutions, and later lead a fruitful life in the future. However, the function of these institutions is more akin to a prison than a place for rehabilitation and growth. Callous and inhumane behaviour from the staff and poor dwelling conditions are a regularity for the juveniles that stay in these facilities.
They also face extensive mental and sexual abuse, especially noticeable in the case of girls. A report by Dhaka Tribune showed that sexual abuse by the facility staff was pervasive in the female Juvenile Detention Centres.
With such gross ineffectiveness, these institutions do nothing but further aggravate these juveniles, mentally scarring them and hindering their ability to function properly in society through initiating an utter lack of comprehensive ability, brought forth by an absence of any kind of helping hand that might have taught them.
As a result, they might again resort to delinquency and illegal activities after being released. Those that don’t get involved in crime end up living in poverty due to their ineptitude and maladroitness.
Domestic Abuse in Bangladesh
Across the globe, children are exposed to various forms of violence which impedes their mental, psychological, and moral growth in their own homes. Being substantially more sensitive, both physically and emotionally, than the mature sects of our society, these agents of abuse leave scars on the mental well-being of the juveniles.
Generally, domestic violence is typically classified into four distinct categories:
- Physical abuse
- Mental or psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
Physical abuse is the form of violence intended to inflict corporal pain and injuries upon an individual. There are primarily two hosts of physical abuse in Bangladesh — families and educational institutions. The existing data regarding physical abuse in our country is nothing short of ghastly.
Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) reported at least 1,387 cases of abuse against children from January to June, excluding a month due to the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they emphasised on the fact that these were all reported cases, with the actual number skyrocketing higher than the ones at hand.13 A reported 1,085 children were murdered from 2012 to 2015.14 As for educational institutions, the numbers are not any lesser.
Educational institutions significantly contribute towards physical violence in the form of corporal punishment. Results from a children’s poll by UNICEF and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs stated that 92% of children faced forms of violence in primary schools, 83% in NGO or kindergarten schools, 90% in madrasas, 86% in higher secondary schools, and 20% in college. Even though corporal punishment has been deemed unlawful according to a Supreme Court judgment issued on 13 January 2011, the practice of enforcing painful punishment to rectify students is still largely prevalent all over our country.
As bad as physical abuse is, psychological abuse is just as destructive. Repeated verbal abuse in the form of shouting, degradation, humiliation, etc. intended to demean the morale of a child is considered as mental or psychological abuse. In a survey funded by the Center for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh it was found that more than 97% of 1,547 children had faced prevalent mental torture at their homes. Experts suggest that almost every child living below the poverty line has faced some form of psychological abuse throughout their life.
Any kind of acknowledgement of sexual gratification in the form of illegal and unconsented sexual activities, sex trade, etc. regarding children is one of the biggest taboos in our country’s culture. BRAC, a non-government organisation, reported 713 incidents of child rape in the span of 2007-2010. Of them, 64% of the victims were young girls and 83% of the perpetrators were non-family members. An abysmal number of 1,383 children were reported to be molested in 2019, with the rate of sexual assault rising to 70%.
Child neglect generally consists of the failure to provide a child with their basic needs and depriving them of a stable childhood. A study showed that 78% of the interviewed children had faced negligence over their lifetime. On a wide-scale basis, it is assumed that even more children have been victims of negligence.
These different agents of domestic abuse play a major role in the future mental state of a juvenile. To be verbally and physically attacked in a supposed safe space like one’s own dwelling place can severely traumatise children and scar their mind forever. This can cause them to grow up to be aggressive and violent, with little knowledge about how to develop a positive relationship, with their only definition of relationships being their own relationships with their abusers.
This can cause them to engage in domestic abuse themselves in their own families, because more often than not, domestic abuse is not recognised for what it is. It is most commonly regarded as a medium of enacting discipline and punishment for a child.
This is extremely harmful for juveniles, because they grow up with a twisted sense of morality regarding the so-called transgressions they were abused for. Even when a juvenile is not abused themselves and instead witnesses someone else being abused, it may leave an enduring mark on their mind.
Juveniles witnessing abuse might not always feel sympathy for the abused, especially when they are taught otherwise, for example if the abused is being “punished” for a “crime”. This degrades their capacity for empathy, making them apathetic. It can even make some of them grow a feeling of endearment for violence.
Although any form of abuse against juveniles has been outlawed by the government, the minute details of what qualifies as abuse has not been cleared. As a result, most cases of domestic abuse of juveniles go unmitigated, which further creates more cases of domestic abuse. So, it is crucial that laws regarding domestic abuse be revised with clear parameters, and enforced effectively.
The factors mentioned above, namely juvenile delinquency and domestic abuse, weigh juveniles down from becoming mature and self-sufficient individuals. Children, being the future citizens and leaders of the nation, require proper nurturing as they grow, in order to develop their emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Unchecked mental health problems can perpetuate into prolonged abnormalities — rage, mania, PTSD, depression, etc.
Being victims of violence today will oftentimes lead children to be perpetrators of violence tomorrow. This vicious cycle of violence and crimes will remain unchanged without proper steps and initiatives. Implementing existing laws and amending the legal framework currently work as the primary adversaries to putting an end to this.
- PARTICIPANTS’ PAPERS
- Child Development Centers (CDC)
- Nutrition country profiles: Bangladesh.
- (PDF) Bangladesh Child Labour Data Country Brief.
- Bangladesh: over half of all children living in poverty.
- Juvenile delinquency in Bangladesh: Causes and consequences – Young Observer
- Juvenile Delinquency – Definition, Meaning, Examples, and Cases
- Juvenile Crime in Bangladesh & the limitation of Correctional Center
- Gravity of rural-urban migration and its impact on Bangladesh
- Bangladesh poverty rate rises to 35pc amid COVID-19 fallout: CPD
- (PDF) Harmful effects of media on children and adolescents
- Juvenile development centres or torture cells?
- Report: At least 1,387 children faced abuse this year
- IMC Journal of Medical Science
- Children’s exposure to psychological abuse and neglect: A population‐based study in rural Bangladesh
- No Place Is Safe: Sexual Abuse Of Children In Rural Bangladesh
- Sexual assault against children rose 70% in 2019: Report
- Juvenile Delinquency Through The Lens Of Bangladesh | 2019-07-12
The writers belong to TDA Editorial Team.
This piece was created in collaboration with BRAC-CGSRHR, BLAST, and CREA under the project “Strengthening the voices and capacities for addressing gender based violence”.