Abstract: When the Sworn Protector Is the Abuser: Police Abuse Against Street Children in Bangladesh (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

When the Sworn Protector Is the Abuser: Police Abuse Against Street Children in Bangladesh

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Nicole Bromfield, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Hasan Reza, PhD, Assistant Professor, Indiana University at South Bend, South Bend, IN
Background and Purpose. There are an estimated 2 million street children in Bangladesh, who face poverty, violence, and stigma in their everyday lives. Despite well-established observations of violence against Bangladeshi children, there are few studies that examine the extent of this violence or have systematically explored the complex phenomenon of life on the street for these children, as it relates to abuse. This research investigates the lived experiences of violence, exploitation, and abuse of street children in an everyday context through semi-structured in-depth interviews with 32 children.     

Methods. This research was part of a mixed-methods study which was conducted in collaboration with an agency partner working with street children in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This study examined Bangladeshi street children’s experiences of violence, abuse, and exploitation, with 32 street children, 17 girls and 15 boys, ages 10-17; a cross-sectional purposive sampling strategy was utilized. The in-depth interviews were conducted in Bengali, after a rapport-building phase. The study used a phenomenological methodology and data were systematically analyzed through a thematic analytical approach.

Results. The findings indicated that all 32 children have been subjected to abuse by police officers and/or other members of law-enforcement agencies, since living or working on the streets. Two dominant modes of police abuse against street children were identified in the analysis. The first mode found that police were responsible for being active abusers of street children. As active abusers, police would intentionally harm children under the pretext of maintaining law and order or to “clean” public places by removing children from them. The forms of abuse inflicted on participants by police differed by gender. Boys reported being kicked, jailed, slapped or beaten with batons by police. Girls reported being forced to have sex or to participate in transactional sexual acts, jailed, or expelled from public places by police. Girl respondents also reported that police patronized pimps to confine them, as victims of sex trafficking, for repeated sexual abuse by police. In the second mode of abuse identified found that police were passive abusers by either ignoring street children’s appeals for help or by threatening them if they attempted to bring their problems to authorities. Boys reported being driven away or threatened to be beaten if they brought any issues to police. Girl respondents reported being driven away by police after reporting sex trafficking victimization at the hands of adults. Some child respondents reported that police indicted them as “culpable” for their “whore-like” activities.       

Conclusion and Implications. This innovative study highlights a critical need for further research and policy intervention, as well as the immediate need for more robust training and oversight of police activity with street children in the country. While many police may take the role of protector judiciously, this study finds that street children's interaction with police is often abusive. This research can serve as an urgent call to action in Bangladesh to protect these children from those in the police force that may abuse their own protector role to harm children.