© 2019

The Gangs of Bangladesh

Mastaans, Street Gangs and ‘Illicit Child Labourers’ in Dhaka


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 1-21
  3. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 23-48
  4. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 121-134
  5. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 153-170
  6. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 171-181
  7. Sally Atkinson-Sheppard
    Pages 183-196
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 197-203

About this book


This book presents a study of street children’s involvement as workers in Bangladeshi organised crime groups based on a three-year ethnographic study in Dhaka. The book argues that ‘mastaans’ are Bangladeshi mafia groups that operate in a market for crime, violence and social protection. It considers the crimes mastaans commit, the ways they divide labour, and how and why street children become involved in these groups. The book explores how street children are hired by ‘mastaans’, to carry weapons, sell drugs, collect extortion money, commit political violence and conduct contract killings. The book argues that these young people are neither victims nor offenders; they are instead ‘illicit child labourers’, doing what they can to survive on the streets. This book adds to the emerging fields of the sociology of crime and deviance in South Asia and ‘Southern criminology’.


trafficking modern slavery juvenile justice youth justice punishment poverty and crime victims young people organised crime south asia crime group drugs weapons social protection

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.King’s College LondonThe Dickson Poon School of LawLondonUK

About the authors

Sally Atkinson-Sheppard is a criminologist and strategist from the UK. She was awarded her PhD from King’s College London in 2015 following the completion of the ethnographic study discussed in this book. Sally began her career as a researcher for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in London, where she represented the MPS in a collaborative study with the British Prison Service which explored the psychology of gang related violence. She went on to advise for a variety of criminal justice reform projects in Bangladesh, including leading the Bangladesh Prison Directorate and the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission through the development of their first strategic plans. Sally has recently returned to the UK after living and working in Beijing where she led the first study into migrant children’s involvement in gangs and organised crime in China. 

Bibliographic information


“The Gangs of Bangladesh is a terrific study of young people’s involvement in organized crime in Dhaka. Based on observation and narrative interviews in a project home, workshops and artwork, the children’s experiences of organized begging, extortion, drug dealing, and political violence are explored sensitively and vividly. The book reveals the children to be reluctant labourers in the world of organized crime. This book changed the way I think about children’s involvement in organized crime. It should have a significant impact on international public policy. Everyone should read it.” (Ben Bowling, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, King's College London, UK.)

“The Gangs of Bangladesh takes readers on journey into the perilous world of children in gangs. Sally has filled a great void in the literature of the emerging field of South Asian Criminology. This research and policy driven monograph is a must read for anyone with criminological imagination who wants to understand an inimitable crime problem of a South Asian Nation (Bangladesh).” (Professor K. Jaishankar, President, South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology (SASCV) and Head, Department of Criminology, Raksha Shakti University, Gujarat, India. )