The Ghaziabad police, which has always been in the limelight for failing to check heinous crimes in the district, would have never imagined that their one-day drive against child labour would turn into an all-India drive. Though it was a drive against child labour, the law enforcement agency came up with a new idea to reunite/rehabilitate missing children across the region. The success saga, which witnessed 51 child labourers rescued in a day, motivated officials to work on missing children with the name ‘Operation Smile’.
With reuniting as many as 227 children with their families by the district police, missing from Ghaziabad and other parts of the country in a short span of time, the operation has not only been appreciated countrywide but is also ready to be implemented in all states and union territories by the end of this month, after an order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Reports also suggest that police of other states initiated their drive with different names like Delhi police with the name ‘Operation Milap’ and in the process found dozens of missing children in one week’s time.
‘The idea was generated during Children's day celebration last year when senior police officials participated in a programme organised for children’, officials of Ghaziabad police said. Initially, the plan was to start a one-day drive to free child labourers but after going through various police records, officials discovered that despite recovering over four dozen children from various nooks, 127 children are still untraced.
The officials then decided to start a massive drive with the motive to reunite them. ‘In the initial phase, we did lots of paper work and gathered details from various police stations. We also approached police of other districts for assistance and approached top authority to get final go ahead,’ said Ranvijay Singh, Deputy SP of Ghaziabad who was appointed as Nodal Officer for operation.
A total of 38 teams consisting senior officials were formed. The teams were sent to UP, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Odisha where local police helped them in the operation. Raids were conducted at hotels, dhabas, factories, shops, shelter homes etc. During the first 15 days, a total of 87 children were rescued out of which 46 had been missing from the district while the remaining were reported to be missing from other states.
Within six weeks, police announced the rescue of more than 150 children below 18 years of age and by year end the figure rose above 200.
After the completion of first phase, children were kept at creation homes and police teams were sent at their native places with their photographs and process of reuniting/rehabilitating was started. Though it was tough to trace their families but with the help of various NGOs, social organisations and local police the task got completed.
‘It was tough to reunite children with their families as majority of them lost their memory and were unable to recognise their family members. But after several attempts, we got lucky. We have now started the second phase of the operation,’ said Dharmendra Singh, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Ghaziabad.
Following the success, the then DGP of UP police ordered all district police chiefs to launch the operation. Pointing to the magnitude of the problem that the Ghaziabad cops had brought to fore, the DGP was requested to direct all district police chiefs to launch a similar drive.
While issuing the directive to launch ‘Operation Smile’ in all the districts of the state, the DGP had pointed out that ‘missing’ children could be living in conditions similar to kids who were traced by the Ghaziabad cops. ‘The operation started by the Ghaziabad police was an eye-opener for cops as it brought out the plight of the runaway and missing children’, he said.
‘The police should resolve to address this issue and bring smiles to thousands of faces,’ he added. Later UP police announced to honour Dharmendra Singh, SSP and Ranvijay Singh, Deputy SP for their work.Days after launching the programme across the state, MHA approached the district police for presentation. The SSP and Deputy SP were contacted by police of other states for assistance.
Now when it has been launched in some states, reports of reuniting of hundreds of children have come. It has also helped in breaking nexus of human trafficking gangs. Notably, the Ghaziabad police has launched its second version and have rescued scores of children in couple of weeks. Kudos to that!