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Stolen Childhoods

Trace missing children

 

The number of missing children is going up every year, thanks to official and social apathy
KAILASH SATYARTHI | Issue Dated: May 13, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : Kailash Satyarthi | rear window | trace missing children |
 

 

Kailash Satyarthi,
Founder of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan
 
A few months ago the government admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the number of missing children in Delhi and this country was increasing. The latest available data comes from the report released by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, on the basis of information collected from the district officers through RTI. It claims that 96,000 children go missing in India every year.
 
Unlike inanimate things, children are more difficult to keep hidden as they cry and shout for food when hungry, they need water, shelter and place to sleep every day. Then why have the police and other state agencies failed miserably to
recover them?
 
The reason is fairly simple. There is no political will, appropriate policies and legislation, proficiency and accountability among state agencies to trace and restore these children to their parents. Since most missing children belong to economically weak families, migrants and slum dwellers who have neither the power nor the connections, the police and administration remain inordinately inactive. In most cases, the poor parents are ignored or ill treated by the police.
 
Sunita, who came with her family in search of livelihood to Delhi, is an illiterate woman from a village in Uttar Pradesh. Her 8-year old son has been missing since 2009 from west Delhi. She told me “Whenever I go to the police station to make inquiries, they ask me to go and check on the internet, I don’t even know what internet is?” When Jameel, father of a 14-year-old missing girl went to lodge a complaint, police officials went to the extent of saying that the girl might have eloped with her boy friend. Such stories are not uncommon.
 
In spite of a constitutional provision to prohibit trafficking of human beings and having ratified the Palermo Protocol, an international legal instrument on trafficking, India is yet to enact a definitive legislation on human trafficking. These two issues are intertwined. Moreover, there is no common Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the police on how to respond and solve cases related to missing children.
 
Neither is the police adequately trained nor does it make efforts to probe into the details for exploring the possibilities of abduction. Most parents are unable to keep their cool in such traumatic conditions. Therefore, except in a few places like Delhi where the Hon’ble Delhi High Court is strict and the civil society is extremely vigilant, most cases of missing children are not even registered. The government admits that complaints for 117,000 missing children were received in the last two years, but only 16,000 FIRs were actually registered under the kidnapping category. 
 
There is no specialised agency to gather, manage, process and disseminate all possible data regarding missing children. The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) which records crime data at the national level does not specifically focus on missing children. Their Talash Information System (TIS) tracks people who go missing, those that are kidnapped and also the unclaimed dead. It is a pity that India which boasts of a superior information technology infrastructure has no proper database of such sensitive data.
 
Another important factor is the clear lack of understanding in correlating the disappearance of children to abduction or kidnapping and to the activities they end up being engaged in after they go ‘missing’. Most of them are engaged in various forms of slavery, prostitution or seen on streets as beggars, rag pickers, committing petty crimes or drug peddling, or are forced to become child labourers. It has also been revealed that children are sold for illicit trading of organs, legal adoption by infertile couples and as child brides to the Middle East with men nearly five times their age.
 
Coordination among agencies to facilitate the reintegration of recovered children with their families and the society at large is also thus a key component. A central agency should be constituted and vested with the responsibility of coordination between legal and investigating agencies.
 
Public apathy is the biggest manifestation of moral deficit. Most agencies along with the society perpetuate certain stereotypes, especially in the case of adolescent girls. They insensitively reprimand the girls for having eloped rather than being kidnapped. This creates further reluctance among apprehensive parents in lodging complaints with the police. In many cases, parents lose out on precious initial time due to delay in lodging complaints. By this time the missing children are most likely taken out of the borders of the domicile state, making the case more complicated. This behavior and mindset needs to drastically change.
 
( Views expressed by the author are personal)
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Issue Dated: Apr 27, 2014