Many nations are still grappling with the phenomenon of children in street situations and how to support and protect them. The apparent lack of success in combating the plight of street-connected children is related to complexities involving intertwining macro and micro factors, along with pervasive global health inequalities among disenfranchised groups. There are an estimated 1-3 million street-connected children in Bangladesh, an impoverished country where much of the population subsist on less than $5 per day. Most street-connected children are deprived of basic needs such as potable water, proper sanitation, adequate nutrition, access to healthcare, and safe shelter. Children in Bangladesh are frequently subjected to violence on the streets. The research objective was to understand the lived experiences of violence perpetrated by adults experienced by street-connected children in Bangladesh in their everyday lives. This paper focuses on our findings related to children’s experiences of extreme police brutality and police abuse, including torture and rape. The research fills a gap in knowledge related to police brutality against children in Bangladesh and calls for urgent action and advocacy efforts by the global community.
This research was part of a mixed-methods study that took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. For the larger study, 592 street-connected children participated in standardized interviews. For this part of the study, we conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with 32 children, 17 girls and 15 boys, ages 10-17, using a cross-sectional purposive sampling strategy. Qualitative description (QD) was the methodological framework. Congruent with QD methodology, thematic analysis was conducted for the data analysis.
The findings suggest that all (n=32) child participants were subjected to extreme abuse by law enforcement. Findings indicate that police officers were both active and passive abusers of children. As active abusers, police intentionally harmed, abused, raped, trafficked, or tortured children under the pretext of maintaining law and order or to “clean” public places by removing children. Most egregiously, boy informants reported being kicked, jailed, slapped or beaten with batons by police. Girl informants reported being forced to have sex or to participate in transactional sexual acts, imprisoned, or expelled from public places by police. Girl respondents also said that police patronized pimps to confine them, as victims of sex trafficking, for repeated sexual abuse by police.
Conclusion and Implications:
Police brutality and abuse are rampant against street-connected children in Bangladesh, a grave human rights abuse and social justice concern. This research highlights the immediate need for social work advocacy on behalf of street-connected children by raising awareness, oversight, policy interventions, and advocating for robust training and oversight of police in Bangladesh and other nations. Police brutality against street-involved youth is common. The dissemination of these research findings will seek to influence policies and training related to the protection of children in Bangladesh, specifically in law enforcement officials in the country. The research findings also have implications in advocating for an increased and sustained global effort to combat police brutality against children in all nations worldwide.