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Kidnapping & mob lynching

Kidnapping & mob lynching

The recent spate of mob lynching in which more than 20 innocent people have been beaten to death in separate incidents on the suspicion of being child-lifters has sent a shock wave across the country. Alarmed by these incidents of merciless killing, both the Centre and the state governments have asked the law enforcement agencies to remain extra vigilant against rumours spreading on social media networks and more particularly on WhatsApp. Initially, it appeared that false rumours spread through WhatsApp led to such violent outbursts of people in different parts of the country. Last week, the Home Ministry asked the states and Union Territories (UTs) to check incidents of mob lynching fuelled by rumours of child-lifting on social media. In an advisory, the Ministry urged the states and UTs to "keep a watch for early detection of rumours of child-lifting and initiate effective measures to counter them". But as per the latest report released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the fear of children being kidnapped by criminal gangs is not unfounded. According to the report, 54,723 children were kidnapped in 2016 whereas 41,893 such incidents were recorded in 2015 and 37,854 in 2014, taking the total number of kidnapped children to over 1.3 lakh in three years since 2014. The police have been able to complete the investigation and file the chargesheet in only 40.4 per cent cases in 2016. The data for 2017-18 is yet to be published. The statistics clearly show that a large number of innocent children were kidnapped from different parts of the country and the law enforcement agencies have not been able to work out these cases, leave alone finding them. In such a frightful scenario, people taking it upon themselves to catch the child-lifters and meting out punishment to them hints at the desperation and helplessness of the people. It is anybody's guess what happened to all these kidnapped children. While it is not difficult to find street children in miserable conditions, begging at railway stations or working at roadside dhabas, the law enforcement agencies have also failed to rescue all these children and help them join their families or go to school. It is the fear of the kidnapped children falling into the traps of bonded labour that make the families so concerned about the fate of the kidnapped child.

While tracing the missing and kidnapped children may be difficult, the police and other law enforcement agencies could keep a tab on the organised gangs of traffickers who lure away unsuspecting children on the promise of providing them with jobs and good life. The MHA report revealed that 8,132 cases of human trafficking were registered in 2016. As many as 15,379 victims -- 5,229 males and 10,150 females -- were trafficked and 23,117 victims -- 10,347 males and 12,770 females -- were rescued. Of these victims, 22,932 belonged to India, 38 each were from Sri Lanka and Nepal and 36 were from Bangladesh. Most of the victims of organised trafficking end up as domestic help or bonded labourers. Many of the female victims are forced into prostitution. Despite a large number of victims trapped in these unfortunate situations, the media and the law enforcement agencies do not seem to be moved by their plight. While a single story of rape or murder keeps the media and the police engaged for weeks together, they do not seem to be equally sensitive to the cases of trafficking and kidnapping, especially in the rural areas. Many of these crimes go unreported and even when they are reported, the different law enforcement agencies do not show the same enthusiasm in investigating and taking the cases to their logical conclusion. This creates an environment of impunity and lawlessness in which the children and women from the poor background are the worst victims. As per the MHA report, 1,06,958 cases of crime against children were registered in the country in 2016 compared to 94,172 in 2015.

Also, the rising number of sexual crime against children can be attributed to this environment of impunity and lawlessness. In order to curb the alarming rise in sexual crime against minors, the government introduced Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in 2012. But, despite the provision of harsher punishments and stringent conditions for securing bail, the number of victims have only increased over the years and the rate of conviction has been as low as 29 per cent. One of the reasons for the lower conviction rate in POCSO cases, and also in case of child kidnapping, is the slow and tedious judicial process in the country. Unless these incidents are heard by the courts and the judgement is delivered in a fast-track mode, the growing number of such crimes cannot be checked. Though it cannot be justified, mob lynching is also a sign of growing frustration of the people with a system that's not delivering the results.

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