Millennium Post

It shouldn’t hurt to be a child!

The dreadful incident that has left a five-year-old child struggling to survive in a hospital ICU might have been avoided or maybe the child would have suffered less if the police had responded quickly and fairly the moment they received the complaint from her parents. It is this lack of prompt action from the police especially in the context of missing children which often makes or mars the life of such child victims.

Nothing is more despicable than violence against children. It is absolutely unforgivable. I can only imagine the incredible physical and mental agony the victims of sexual assault suffer. The brutal case which occurred last week is not the only case which indicates the need to strongly improve the response of law enforcement officers.

In Delhi, on an average, 14 children go missing everyday. There have been many incidents in the past which have proved that searching for missing children is not a priority for Indian enforcement authorities. Nithari case (2006) is another example to prove my point. It is significant to note that in majority of cases of missing children are reported from  poor areas where migrants live;  thus reflecting the lack of a protective environment for children growing up in these areas.

Having engaged with this issue across several states of Delhi, UP, MP and  Gujarat,  the issues and challenges appear to be the same as far as dealing with cases of missing children are concerned. When the parents attempt to file an FIR, often the police send them away after making a Daily Diary or DD entry! A report in the DD does not require the police to take action immediately and do the necessary follow up. All reports of the DD don’t count in the criminality statistics and so the district won’t appear as a ‘High Crime Zone’. Our experience has also shown how in some cases the parents of missing children had to go everyday to the police station without any effect. It is also important to point out that most parents of are unaware of the difference between FIR and DD. And even if a case is reported as a FIR the police often refuses to take action. The most common answer from them is, ‘It is your duty to find your child, and our duty to report about it’.

For the police of course, a report in the DD means less work and less trouble.

As per NHRC 44,000 children go missing and Delhi tops the list with 6.7 per cent of the total cases.  Almost 11,000 children are not traced in any given year. With the help of RTI, CRY partners received information from 177 police stations that In 2011 total case of missing children was 5,004 in Delhi itself.

The total 3,835 children have been recovered and 1,159 children have not been recovered till now. 10 children recovered dead. The missing and kidnapping children have registered in FIR total entries 3,602 and DD total entries 1,402.  Through the RTI we also found out that the female children are mostly missing or kidnapped in Delhi. 1090 children were reported missing last year from the period of  1 January to 30 June 2012,  nearly one child per day went missing during that period. Six, children recovered dead but all the other children have been recovered alive. 326 have not found yet.

Given these statistics, whose priority are the children of our society? Are we investing enough in our children to protect them from neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation? Why do we tolerate such heinous crimes against our children? Do we value them enough to take concerted actions to not only protect them from such violence but also prevent such incidences from taking place? For the police the issue of missing children is perhaps one among the other many priorities that they are confronted with in their everyday lives. However, this is an issue which calls for immediate action, as a missing child could potentially be exposed to numerous violations of rape, abuse, trafficking, etc; the lag of time at the different stages of registering and FIR, to disseminating information about the missing child to taking an overt action has often cost the victims dearly.

A standard operating procedure to deal with cases of missing children needs to be put in place and ensured strict adherence to. Convergence between stakeholders such as the police and the child line or other civil society organisations too may be of significant help in not only tracing missing children but also in their recovery and rehabilitation subsequently; similarly there is a need for a central database of missing children and efficient systems to be put in place for disseminating information about missing children.  

Most importantly, much more concerted efforts are needed to build a protective environment for children in our society today with a view of preventing such incidences from taking place.

The author is director at Policy Research and Advocacy
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