India’s Disappearing Children
November 2006 NOIDA (Uttar Pradesh): Three-year-old son of a CEO of a multinational company is abducted for ransom. The Police act with rare urgency and dispatch and rescues the child within five days.
December 2006 Nithari, NOIDA: Skeletons of several children are fished out from a sewer. It is believed that some 38 children were abducted, abused, killed and disposed off in a most gruesome manner by a psychopath and cannibal. Seventeen victims were positively identified. It was going on for over a year. Parents of missing children (mostly migrant labourers) had reported to police. Police did not pursue the matter diligently.
January 2012 New Delhi: A two-year-old baby girl, nicknamed Falak is admitted to the trauma ward of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in a battered condition. Falak, after battling for life, dies after two months. Subsequent investigations reveal a sordid tale of human trafficking spanning across three states Bihar, Delhi and Rajasthan.
May 2012 Rohtak (Haryana): Horrifying tales of physical and mental torture and sexual abuse meted out to the inmates of Apna Ghar, a shelter home for the orphans and destitute shock the nation. The victims were mostly children in the age group of 5-10 years.
June 2012 Mumbai (Maharashtra): Sangeeta, a three-year-old girl is stolen from Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus on 10 June. Parents report to the police. The Police sift through the CCTV footage and find that the child was stolen from her parents by a man with a distinct limp in his gait. TV channels air the footage on 6 July. Sangeeta along with her abductor are traced in Haridwar (Uttarakhand) on 7 July.
Not every child who goes missing in India is fortunate like Sangeeta. One shudders to think about the dark future that Sangeeta was about to plunge in, had her abductor was not noticed by a vigilant policeman on duty in Haridwar.
India features prominently on the human trafficking map of Asia. Scores of children from Nepal and Bangladesh are illegally brought to India every year. Many children from India and neighbouring countries are also smuggled into the Middle East for begging during Haj or to work as camel jockey or sold as child brides. Situation of child trafficking within the country is also very grim. About 40,000 to 96,000 children go missing in India every year. About 30 per cent never return. Most of the children in this category are either street children, kidnapped, trafficked, lost, abandoned by parents and relatives or run away from homes to elope, to earn a living, to escape unfavourable domestic conditions. Sometime poverty-stricken parents willingly sell their daughters to traffickers, knowing fully well about their impending fate. Domestic maid industry in country largely thrives on this socio-economic condition. These unfortunate children get sucked-in in the vortex of cruel world of begging, prostitution, child labour, bonded labour, forced marriage, drugs, crime, terror, and even child soldiers and human organ trade.
In February 2007, rattled by the horrors of Nithari abuse and murders of children, government set up a National Human Rights Commission Committee to examine the issue of missing children. The committee expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which our police and administration deals with the problem. It observed that the juvenile justice system in the country is flawed, as most of the States, have neither formed Rules under the Principal Act – Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 nor raised Special Juvenile Police Units as directed by the Act to handle the problem.
Delhi-NCR THE ZONE OF CHILD-LIFTERS
The national capital Delhi is the major crime city, where crimes not only against women but also against children are hitting through the roof. Delhi tops the list of states where highest number of crimes against children were committed in 2011 while Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of rape and murder cases of children respectively. A total of 33,098 cases of crime against children were reported in the country in 2011 as compared to 26,694 cases in 2010, suggesting an increase of 24 per cent.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the rate of crime against children was highest in Delhi (25.4 per cent) followed by Andaman and Nicobar Islands (20.3 per cent), Chandigarh and Chhattisgarh (7 per cent each), Madhya Pradesh (6 per cent) and Goa (5.1 per cent) as compared to the national average of 2.7.
Also India’s capital Delhi has one of the highest numbers of missing children. What’s more, the country has no central data on the number of children missing, or what has happened to them. No lessons have been learnt from the gruesome Nithari killings, where 19 children went missing for two years before they were found to have been murdered.
The highest numbers of missing cases were reported from outer Delhi and the northwest district. While 549 children, from infant to 18 years, went missing in outer Delhi, 465 others in the same age-group were missing from the neighbouring northwest district. The outer district police managed to trace 427 children, but the northwest district police were able to recover only 203 children. The southeast district did not bother to provide any figures even though Sangam Vihar has traditionally been a vulnerable area.
The Delhi police said that most missing children belonged to migrant families. “About 70 per cent of people residing here are labourers who go out to work leaving their children behind. We have tied up with four NGOs to set up crèches. We hope to make a beginning by providing a safe zone where parents can leave their children,” DCP (outer) BS Jaiswal said.
A total of 1,514 cases of murder of children, including infanticides, were reported in the country in 2011 against 1,508 cases in 2010. Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number of such cases (326), accounting for 22.9 per cent of the total murder cases reported in the country.
Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry did not report any case of child murder in 2011. A total of 7,112 cases of child rape were reported in the country in 2011 as compared to 5,484 in 2010, accounting for an increase of 29.7 per cent.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, over 44,000 children go missing every year. The National Centre for Missing Children says there are 10 lakh runaways in India every year, that is, a child runs away from home every 30 seconds.
Directions from the courts have had little impact. In September 2010, the Delhi High Court directed the city police to find out whether organised gangs were behind cases of children going missing.
By Our Correspondent
Going “Missing” is not a cognisable offence in India; therefore the police (barring Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) do not lodge a First Information Report in such cases. Only an entry in the General Station Diary is made in this regard. Thereafter the information is transmitted to higher headquarters and offices but the urgency to locate the child, depending upon the socio-economic status of the parents dies down with time. Children who are vulnerable to such crimes belong to less privileged sections of society and their parents face so much of official apathy that they give up hope of finding their child back. The case becomes merely another entry in the voluminous database maintained by crime records bureaux of states and centre. An NHRC report indicates that 60 per cent of child trafficking cases remain unreported.
Problem of missing children is largely related to trafficking. It is a highly organised crime having pan-India and international dimensions. The Central Bureau of Investigation in 2006 had informed the Delhi High Court regarding the existence of 815 gangs, comprising 4,289 members (mostly women), who were involved in kidnapping children for prostitution, begging and ransom in India. A pro-active system whose priority is to locate the missing child by setting out search teams, flashing ‘hue and cry’ notices across the country and obtaining cooperation from other states’ police can only beat the modus operandi of these gangs who have been operating with impunity for decades.
The Police are an important organisation which can curb child disappearance. The force needs to be sensitised about the issue which is entirely different from other crimes and incidents. It is a large scale human tragedy. Attitude of police officers towards trafficking is rather disheartening. An NHRC report indicated that 54.8 per cent officers gave NO priority to such cases; 25.3 per cent accorded LOW priority; 12.2 per cent assigned MEDIUM priority and only 7.7 per cent police officers thought it fit to give an urgent priority.
Crimes against children in India are compiled (along with other crimes) by Ministry of Home Affairs’ National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) based on the inputs provided by States’ and Union Territories’ crime record bureaux. There is no separate category of offences against children. Only cognisable crimes are recorded under the following sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) or Special and Local Laws (SLL) or both.
► Murder (Sec 302 IPC)
► Infanticides crime against newborn child 0-1 year (Sec 315 IPC)
► Rape (Sec 376 and 377 IPC)
► Kidnapping and Abduction (Sec 360 IPC – 369 IPC)
► Foeticide (Sec 315 IPC and 316 IPC)
► Abetment to Suicide (Sec 305 IPC)
► Exposure and Abandonment (Sec 317 IPC)
► Procuration of Minor Girls (Sec 366A IPC)
► Buying and Selling of Girls for Prostitution (Sec 373/372 IPC)
► Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 (SLL)
► Child Labour (Prevention and Regulation) Act 1986 (SLL)
The statistics of the NCRB do not reflect the magnitude of the problem. These figures have been contested by NGOs who have been working in the field of child welfare and protection. In fact NCRB figures can lull anyone to believe that there is no such problem in our society. For instance between 2008 and 2010, as per NCRB, 31,837 children went missing; where as an NHRC report indicates that 44,476 children were kidnapped or abducted in 2008 alone and 11,008 remained untraced. A NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, obtained information through RTIs and established that 60,000 children disappeared in 2009. Same NGO undertook an extensive study from January 2008 January 2010 in 392 out of 640 districts of the country in 20 States and four Union Territories and put the number of missing children at 117,480 out of which only 16,000 FIRs were registered by the police. 41,546 children remained untraced. By extrapolating these figures on national scale, it was assessed that about 96,000 children disappear in India annually. Children from metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru are going missing at an alarming rate. In Delhi alone, it estimated that about 1600 children disappear from homes every month.
This serious problem needs a comprehensive strategy. At organisational level the police and administration needs to be more sensitized towards this human tragedy. All states must have Juvenile Protection Police Units to organise search for the missing child. All states must respond to ‘hue and cry’ notices and render their cooperation and support.
IT and media can play an important role in tracking these missing children. A seamless database and portals for police, government departments and NGOs can help in relaying the information faster than movement of abductors. Had it not been for the airing of CCTV footage by news channels showing an abductor stealing Sangeeta from her parents, she would not have been restored to her parents. The enormous reach of mass media in India must be exploited by law enforcing agencies and NGOs.
Most of the children in India are still not photographed or fingerprinted. It is very difficult to trace out a ‘faceless’ baby. This problem is frequently faced by police while investigating the cases of baby stealing from maternity wards and crèches. All children in age group of 0-10 years must be issued with identity cards or their parents should have them photographed frequently.
Our social security system in the country needs to revamp. Our orphanages, shelter homes, juvenile remand homes are sadly dens of criminals who prey on hapless children, teenage boys and girls and women. Every year many children run away from these hell holes and fall prey to traffickers in the street.
Most important part of the strategy would be to study the modus operandi of the traffickers and map their areas of operations and routes of movement. States in whose jurisdiction such areas fall need to have specially trained police force to pre-empt the criminals. If the place of abduction of a child, movement of the abductors and their destination is mapped, a pattern will emerge connecting religious places, red light areas, and places infamous for child labour, imported brides and other crimes. It may not be a common knowledge but every year large scale movement of beggars and sex workers takes place in the country to cover all festivals, fairs and other mega events.
The states and cities which have serious problem of child trafficking cannot afford to be passive about the issue. Children are Nation’s future and every effort should be made to save them from the clutches of traffickers.
By Colonel US Rathore