If you are a parent, go hug your child before you read this piece. We have an epidemic on, an epidemic that gets but a passing mention in the newspapers, an epidemic that is real and tangible only for those parents who wait for the call that never comes, the child who never returns, who do the rounds of the police stations, photographs in hand, who put out advertisements in the newspapers, describing what their child was wearing when he or she went missing, who live a life in limbo. Our children are going missing. One child every eight minutes across India.
“In India, a child goes missing every eight minutes, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Almost 40 percent of those children haven’t been found.” Wall Street Journal India Realtime.
On October 25, 2012, firstpost.com stated,
“According to the police, a newborn boy was kidnapped from Wadia Hospital in Central Mumbai. The day-old boy was stolen during visiting hours when his mother, Jasmine Naik (28), was taking an evening walk in the corridor of the hospital, they said. She had left the baby unattended in the ward and was taking a stroll when someone took him away, police said, adding the hospital, run by a private trust, didn’t have CCTV cameras.”
DNA pointed out in its October 26, 2012 issue,
“The Bombay High Court in 2009 issued 23 guidelines for enhancing security in government, semi-government and BMC-run hospitals after a four day old baby of Mohan and Mohini Nerurkar was kidnapped from the maternity ward of BMC-run Sion hospital. The HC order said that sensitive areas such as the neo-natal, post-natal and paediatric wards should have CCTV cameras. The court said they should also be installed at all entry and exit routes. However, not one camera has been installed inside the premises of Wadia Maternity Hospital. The management has left a proposal to install CCTV cameras worth Rs 1 lakh pending for three years.”
In its July 8, 2012 issue, DNA pointed out,
“Three year old Sangita, who was kidnapped from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) on June 10, was rescued from her kidnapper at the Haridwar bus station by the Haridwar Police on Saturday afternoon. The alleged kidnapper, identified as Raju, was also arrested by the Haridwar police. The Government Railway Police (GRP) of Maharashtra recently released shocking CCTV footage of the kidnapping. It shows a limping man alighting from a train and wandering about the station before spotting the sleeping family and three year old Sangita, who was not asleep at the time. The man then sat beside her and took her away.”
Sangita’s parents were lucky that she was found. Not all kidnappings have a happy ending; some children are never found, or are found dead.
Perhaps the most chilling are the 2006 Nithari killings, where remains of 17 children were found in drains outside a bungalow.
“For the last two years, more than forty young children and women went missing from a small urban hamlet of Nithari, at the centre of Noida, a satellite town bordering Delhi (India). The local media regularly covered the incidents of missing children; the National Commission for Women also took cognisance of the matter, but the children continued to vanish in thin air. However, in the last week of December 2006, by sheer chance some human remains were spotted at the backyard of a palatial house situated at the edge of the village of Nithari. When the spot was searched further what emerged was a chilling tale of cold blooded serial murders that perhaps qualify as the biggest serial killings any where in the world.” http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Child/2007/nithari.html
The unimaginable horror of Nithari killings, were further abetted by a lackadaisical police force that refused to take complaints of missing children.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), almost 60,000 children were reported missing in 2011. Of these, 22,000 are yet to be located. However, according to a report by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), nearly 11 children go missing every hour, and at least, 4 of them are never found. According to BBA, the number of missing children could be as high as 90,000 per year. West Bengal topped the charts of missing children with 12,000 children missing in 2011. Madhya Pradesh followed with 7,797 cases, while Delhi had 5,111 cases. These are merely reported cases that discount those children who might run away due to various factors, ranging from abuse to dysfunctional homes, and exam stress, or some who might get lost while families travel. Majority of the missing children are just taken away. The statistics are scary – in 2011, 15,284 cases of kidnapping were reported. This was up 43 percent from the previous year.
Children are kidnapped for human trafficking, illegal organ transplantation, prostitution, child porn racketing, child labour in factories and unpaid domestic help. Many children are forced to beg; some are mutilated to evoke sympathy for more earning potential, and a small percentage for ransom.
Kidnappings for ransom are on the rise, and in some cases even after paying up, the parents never see their children again. According to a report in the Guardian,
“Figures from Delhi police show that kidnap for ransom is on the rise. In 2008, there were 1,233 cases in the national capital; by last year that had soared to 2,975. In the first three months of 2011, 802 cases were registered.”
According to an estimate by NGOs, only 50 percent of missing children are actually reported to the NCRB. Urban slum children are the most vulnerable as they are easily lured into promise of good food and clothes. According to news reports, there are over 800 gangs with 5,000 members involved in the kidnapping and trafficking of children, much in the same way they would traffic drugs, or contraband. Some parents are so poor; they don’t have recent photographs to give the police. Children between the ages of 6 and 13 are the most targeted and vulnerable. Infants are also taken; sometimes from the very hospitals they are born in, or from railway stations, and other crowded places. The children, who are lucky enough to be found and rescued or have the presence of mind to run away, speak of being sold into agricultural or factory labour.
Why do we have so many missing children and why are they not found?
It starts with how the investigation is done. Very often, First Information Reports are not registered; just an entry is made into a list of missing persons at the police station, and a photograph of missing child sent across city police stations. Cases are only investigated if the person reporting the missing child files a case of kidnapping.
Delhi scores better in this regard – if a child is not found within 24 hours, a case of kidnapping is to be filed mandatorily. An initiative called Pehchaan (recognition) in Delhi has policemen taking pictures of children in slums for record, and copies are provided to their families. The Crime Branch has launched an exclusive portal (www.trackthemissingchild.gov.in) to track down missing children across the country. All states have to compulsorily put this facility into place. A PIL filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, states that over 1.7 lakh children have gone missing in the country between January 2008 and 2010. In response to this PIL, Supreme Court has instructed the chief secretaries of all states and union territories to ask police stations to register an FIR, and start an investigation. Supreme Court also directed that all police stations should have a special juvenile police officer.
This may be too little, too late for those parents who have waited endlessly. For those children, who have already become statistics in the long lists, these measures might not be of any help. But we can, and we must push for more attention to the growing menace; we cannot let this get brushed under the carpet.
This article was originally featured in Tehelka Blog on January 31st 2013