Chaima, Soundous, Nazir, Yasser ... the list goes on. They are all Algerian children who were victims of abductions, which have shocked the public and terrified parents in the past days and months. Civil associations and political parties declared a state of alert and demanded that the authorities take effective action in order to end this spate of abductions. They have also asked for the application of deterrent measures, in particular the death penalty for those who commit these crimes.
Although the abduction of children and their disappearence is not new to Algerian society — with security figures reporting more that than 500 children between the ages of 10 and 16 disappeared last year — the incident of young Chaima shook Algerian society and put the country in a state of shock from which it still has not woken up. The 8-year-old girl was found dead — her body abused and thrown in one of the cemeteries of the capital’s suburbs. Algerian society awoke to a dangerous and widespread reality of which it was not previously aware.
After Chaima, Soundous followed — she was found murdered in her family’s house. Then there was the story of 11-year-old Nazir, a boy from the city of Skikda on the eastern side of the capital, who miraculously managed to escape his kidnappers and hide in a house on the side of the road. Before them there was Yasser, who is still missing, without a trace, to this day. All these stories have terrified the Algerian public and caused an obsessive fear of abduction among parents. Even this past winter vacation has not been like those of the past. Children used to fill the streets and public places during the vacation, but this year, playgrounds were empty. It was as if the kids had never left school. Parents preferred to “lock up” their dear children at home rather than hear about their abduction.
Disintegration of society
The phenomenon of child abduction — which usually ends with sexual abuse, death or release of the victim in return for a ransom — has resurfaced, after it had been restricted to tribal regions in the center of the country, where armed groups would kidnap the children of contractors for extortion. Sociology researcher Dr. Muhammad Bin Makhlouf told Al-Hayat said, “Perhaps it was justified at some point, when the motive of the kidnappers was to get money. Yet, what’s not justified is that the phenomenon now includes children whose parents are not well-off and who are abducted and killed.”
Bin Makhlouf explains, “Algerian society expanded and witnessed quick urban growth, but, at the same time, there was a decline in social relations, which became cold. The social structures in cities disappeared, thus leaving a void that pushed youngsters to commit such acts.”
By social structures, Bin Makhlouf means neighborhood councils, civil society organizations, cultural and youth centers, and local councils. In the absence of these components that create a framework for engaging youth, emptiness and frustration take hold. As a result, they meet up and make plans to commit such acts.
Bin Makhlouf also points out the dispersion that marks social relations nowadays and the lack of unity among members of the same family and in society as a whole. He also demands that more importance be given to social structures, by activating the role of social organizations, cultural institutions and even mosques in spreading awareness to address societal breakdown.
Deterrence through the death penalty
Facing this peaceful social demand, civil society organizations and political parties have called for the death penalty for anyone involved in an abduction, murder or rape. They have underlined the importance of effectively applying this punishment, which is still suspended, despite being mentioned in Algerian courts. These organizations are working on raising a banner to ask the government and parliament to adopt the implementation of the death penalty in issues related to murder and rape, especially when it involves underage kids. Algeria has frozen the implementation of capital punishment since 1993, and it declared its agreement to cancel it in 2010.
Parallel to the demands for reinstating the death penalty, the Algerian Network for Defense of Child Rights took action by demanding practical steps to save abducted children and combat this string of abductions. This must be done through coordination with the relevant government ministries and circulation of a hotline to report abduction cases and fight them.