An explosion of illegal small arms has spiked crime in Bangladesh, made its borders an arms trafficking route and above all, stolen lives.
Salma Sultana, 35, a resident of Dhaka's Mirpur suburb, knows the horrendous impact of gun violence more than most.
Returning from a relative's house with a friend on April 6th to his home, Sultana's husband, 40-year-old Hazrat Ali, came to the aid of three women out for a morning walk who were set upon by three muggers.
Ali did not know the attackers were armed. He was shot in the chest and died in a pool of his own blood while the muggers fled in a car.
Now, Sultana is overwhelmed in grief, uncertainty and debt.
Having lost the lone family breadwinner, she struggles to support her now fatherless children-- an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. The lowly employee of a private firm, Ali left little for his family on which to survive.
"There's no-one to help us in these difficult times," Sultana told Khabar South Asia. "You cannot imagine how I manage food, pay rent and expenses for my kids' schooling," she said, fighting back tears.
'A major challenge to law and order'
The tragic incident caused outrage and revulsion across Bangladesh, where widespread use of unlicenced weapons poses a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies.
"The small arms, both locally-made and foreign, are very frequently used by the local goons and criminals," said Kazi Wazed Ali, officer-in-charge of the Mirpur Police station. "The number of crimes could have been lower if we could stop the use of small arms."
There is no official figure on the number of illegal small arms and other weapons in the city, Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner and head of the media and community services of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told Khabar.
According to Neila Husain, Bangladesh chief of the London-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Saferworld, small arms are widely used in Bangladesh and account for at least 11% of its crimes. Police believe the percentage is much higher.
"We think small arms and weapons are one of the major challenges for us to maintain law and order. The problem is more serious in thickly populated cities like Dhaka and Chittagong," Rahman said.
According to experts, the definition of small arms include those that can be managed by one person. These range from pistols, revolvers and rifles to both light machine guns and AK-47 submachine guns.
Police in Dhaka report that 3,988 people were murdered and 870 people were kidnapped in 2010, and illegal small arms were associated with many of these incidents.
A transit point for arms shipments
Bangladesh faces the additional challenge of becoming a route for illegal small arms and explosives smuggling across Asia. On April 1st, 2004, police recovered a 10-truckload cache of sophisticated fire arms, rocket launchers, grenades, bullets and other illicit items believed to be destined for an Indian separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom.
A porous border with neighbouring India and Burma and unprotected portions of the Bay of Bengal, draws arms dealers seeking a safe transit route. As a result, illegal guns in Bangladesh become both readily available and affordable.
"It is hard to figure out the exact number of illegal arms available in the country," former Bangladesh Police Chief Nurul Hudi told Khabar. "But what I can say is that these are easily available, as the criminals can buy a pistol by spending only Tk 2,000 to Tk 3,000 ($25 to $35) from the bordering areas," he said.
Huda said to take arms off the street, the government must enhance intelligence efforts and enforce strict land and sea border controls.
M Sohail, media spokesperson of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), said, "Illegally- circulated small arms are one of the biggest threats for us. But we are trying our best to stop the proliferation of such arms."