On Wednesday evening, Senior Assistant Superintendent Sultana Esrat Jahan was heading home from Police Headquarters. Near the High Court area, her vehicle got stuck in a traffic jam.
As she was waiting in front of a signal near Shikkha Bhaban, she saw a man carrying a child and asking for alms from commuters.
The man looked sickly, while the baby girl, around seven-month-old, had a burnt back and seemed drowsy. Esrat called the man and asked him who the baby belonged to. The man said the child was his.
She then tried to get out of the car to ask him further questions. At that point, he fled.
Esrat began chasing him. In her pursuit, she was also helped by the traffic police present. Other law enforcers in the area also joined in. They finally caught and took the man to a nearby police box.
Law enforcers then interrogated the man, Jahirul Islam, 40, who kept on saying the baby was his. After a while, a woman entered the police box and claimed that she was Jahirul’s wife and the baby was theirs.
To verify the claim, police took the woman, Josna, to her home nearby. There, they asked locals if the baby belonged to Josna. The locals, however, said the child could not have been hers as she had been living in the locality for a long time and no one had heard of her giving birth.
ASP Esrat with the help of other law enforcers then took the child to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), and admitted her to the children’s ward.
“I knew something was wrong, as soon as I saw the man with the child. It did not feel right,” ASP Esrat told The Daily Star.
Brig Gen AKM Nasiruddin, director of DMCH, said, “The baby was brought in a critical condition. She is suffering from respiratory problems. She has contracted a blood infection due to pneumonia.”
“We are taking every measure to treat her. The treatment is being paid for by the hospital authorities,” he added.
ASP Esrat was still at DMCH while doctors were looking after the baby. She left the hospital around 2am after making sure that the child’s condition was stable.
Contacted, Shafiul Alam, sub-inspector of Shahbagh Police Station, said after interrogating Josna and Jahirul, they learnt that a woman named Parveen gave birth to the child in DMCH. She had met the couple before giving birth.
“After the child was born, Parveen gave her to the couple, who used her for begging,” he added. SI Shafiul said Jahirul was a “drug addict” and took the child with him during begging. The couple would make around Tk 500-1,000 a day, he added.
He could not, however, say how the child had suffered the burns.
Contacted yesterday, Abul Hasan, officer-in-charge of Shahbagh Police Station, said a case was filed in this connection. The couple was produced before a Dhaka court, which sent them to jail, he added.
NOT AN ISOLATED INCIDENT
Incidents of using children -- usually those kidnapped -- for begging have surfaced numerous times in the past.
Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner (media wing) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said, “There have been such incidents in the past and we have taken actions against the accused.” Regarding the recent one, he said they are looking into it.
Back in November 2017, an intellectually-challenged child was rescued by police from Badda. The child had been kidnapped around two weeks ago. After a missing person case was filed, police began investigating the matter.
Law enforcers found a kidnapping gang who would abduct children. They would be used for begging or sold whenever possible.
One of the main accused in the case remains absconding to this day.
SI Nirmal Agarwala of Jatrabari Police Station, who was an SI at Badda and investigated the kidnapping, said, “The gang would use other children to steal babies. They would often target babies who were ill.”
This correspondent spoke to many beggars in the capital who used children. Most of them said they use their own or relatives’ children.
However, when pressed, some could not provide satisfactory answers regarding the child they use for begging. A few even avoided questioning and went away hurriedly.
According to police sources, some beggars either “hire” someone else’s child or “hire out” theirs for begging. There had been cases where some even sold their children, they added.
Asked, DMP Deputy Commissioner Masudur said, “We are continuing our efforts… whenever we hear of any such incident, we take actions.”