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Lost and not found

Lost and not found
On a summer holiday in December 2012, three children had come to see Red Fort from <g data-gr-id="161">Balia</g>, UP. However, life had something else in store for them as they went missing from the New Delhi Railway station itself. A 10-year-old fled from his home on May 2 after being beaten by his sister-in-law. The child was rescued by an NGO Prayas. The kid <g data-gr-id="157">ran-away</g> again from the NGO when the authorities called his parents to take him back indicating <g data-gr-id="155">at </g>his unwillingness to return home due to fear.

In another <g data-gr-id="168">heart wrenching</g> case, 16 children were kidnapped from Jodhpur in Rajasthan and brought to <g data-gr-id="150">Motibagh</g>. The kids were forced into begging and selling cheap portable stuff by the abductors.
The above three incidents show the plight of children in the country as within a short span of four months 2,100 children went  missing in the national Capital alone, which raises serious concerns about child protection in India. Although police <g data-gr-id="171">manages</g> to rescue more than half of these children, a large number remain <g data-gr-id="180">unrescued</g>.

What is more alarming is the fact that most of these children are females who are dragged into beggary, child labour and prostitution.

According to data issued by Delhi Police, 2,168 children have been reported missing in the city till April 15 this year, of which 1,212 are girls and 956 boys. Although 1,202 children were rescued, 586 girls and 380 boys are yet to be found. Last year, 7,572 children went missing from Delhi out of which 4,166 were girls and 3,406 boys. Although police brought back 5,695 children to their homes, 1,877 kids including 1,199 girls were yet to be traced. In 2013, 5,809 children went missing of which 1,025 were yet to be traced while 3,686 had gone missing the previous year.

Millions of children throughout the world are engaged in activities depriving them of adequate education, health and basic freedom leading to <g data-gr-id="184">violation</g> of their fundamental rights. Of these children, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour like work in  hazardous environment such as <g data-gr-id="195">fire cracker</g> factories, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict. Illegal adoption is another factor for the trafficking of a newly born or a small child.

In the first case listed above, Pintu (14), Amish (8) and Rahul (9) [name changed] were the three victims. Being the eldest, <g data-gr-id="196">Pintu</g> took the responsibility of others while coming to visit the place. Traffickers caught them at the railway station itself, locked the elder boy in a room and made the other two work in a tea-stall. Pintu after two days broke the window and managed to run away. He met a truck driver who called his parents. They all came to <g data-gr-id="201">railway</g> station with the police and asked the owner of tea-stall about the other two kids. The owner told them that they had disappeared within 24 hours from there. <g data-gr-id="200">Meanwhile</g> Pintu recognised the same trafficker who had kidnapped them and on his cues police caught the culprit. After continuous rummage police got to know that another trafficker had trafficked the two kids from the railway station before selling them to a sugarcane factory owner in Meerut, UP. After one <g data-gr-id="162">year</g> one of them called his uncle and then was recovered from Tarn Taran district in Punjab.

<g data-gr-id="179">Project</g> director at Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), Rakesh Senger said, “We have the responsibility to rescue the trafficked children. We get information about the missing children not only from Delhi, but from all over the country and we try our best to rescue them.”

“If children missing in Bihar are found in Haryana, it proves they have been trafficked. Some of them are trafficked for illegal adoption. In <g data-gr-id="186">2012 ,</g> we caught a <g data-gr-id="189">baba</g> in Raghubir Nagar who was running an illegal home and selling <g data-gr-id="190">new born</g> babies”, he added. In the third case listed above, the traffickers made all 16 children beg on a traffic signal near <g data-gr-id="191">Motibagh</g>, who earned Rs 1, 80,000 within a month and gave it to them.

Senger also said, “The children begging on roads are not always forced by their parents. In most of the <g data-gr-id="258">cases</g> they are trafficked kids who are brought up and trained to beg. The clothless kids we see 
begging during the chilling winter are trained well by these traffickers.” He added that most of these children belonged to <g data-gr-id="170">weaker</g> section of the society. In Delhi, children living in <g data-gr-id="169">slum</g> area and unauthorised colonies are abducted in large number and are forced into child labour and other illicit activities.

Fears of studies, peer pressure, family dispute, elopement, scolding by parents are some of the reasons why children flee their homes on their own. In the second case listed above, Nafees fled from Samastipur, Bihar after a family dispute. He spent about 20 days in Prayas- <g data-gr-id="167">a NGO</g> in Jahangirpuri.

“We have come here to take our child back. We were not at home at the time of his quarrel with his sister-in-law, otherwise he would not have taken such an extreme step. We left for Delhi as soon as we got to know that our child has been rescued by Prayas, but unfortunately he ran away again after hearing the news of our arrival”, said his father Mohd. Rehman. His mother Momina Khatoon said, “I have asked <g data-gr-id="202">Prayas</g> to do everything in their capacity to find our child. We have not spoken to him for many days. As soon as he is recovered, we will take him back to Bihar.” There is no greater <g data-gr-id="203">vaccum</g>, no greater void than the helplessness felt by parents whose children go missing.

Mukesh Kumar, project manager at Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre said, “We take proper care of children living here by providing good food, sanitation and healthcare <g data-gr-id="175">facilities</g> but we do not give money to them. In order to earn money and get food some children run away and go to “Bangla Sahib and other such places.” “We cannot restrict any child, we cannot beat them. They run away from the playground and school. The only thing we can do is to rescue them again”, said Mukesh when asked about security loopholes in the working of NGOs.

Eight-year-old child Avinash, who ran away 10 times from Prayas, said he did not like the food provided there, when asked.

Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his efforts for eradication of child labour and trafficking in India. For this noble cause he has endured beatings in addition to receiving death threats.

The issue of human trafficking and missing children was also discussed during an inter-state coordination meeting held between senior officers of Delhi Police and their counterparts from Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir this month. They have decided to share technology in policing and upload details of missing persons on Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNET) without loss of time.

Delhi Police have launched several initiatives to curb this trend which include project “SNEH” under which Juvenile Welfare Officers of police stations work in close coordination with NGOs and undertake awareness programmes. Anti-Human Trafficking Units have been formed in each district and in the Crime Branch and has formulated Standard Operating Procedure in case of missing children which mandates prompt registration of FIR.

As per emerging trends, children from poor families living in unauthorised colonies and slum clusters are more vulnerable. Police have recently launched ‘Pehchaan’, under which kids are photographed and a copy of t is handed over to their parents.

“This has been done as it was observed in many cases that when children from families of poor financial background go missing, families were not even able to provide us with their pictures,” the official added.

Delhi Police <g data-gr-id="284">have</g> also launched ‘Operation Milap’, aimed at uniting missing children with their parents under which 120 kids have been restored with their families so far in less than six months. Under the scheme which was launched in December last, Crime Branch officials check each and every child in the Children Homes and make all out efforts to get any clue about their parents/home so that they can be restored properly. A social activist and former DGP Amod Kanth who is the General Secretary of NGO Prayas said, “Although a large number of children go missing, restoration efforts are paying off. ‘Operation Milap’ launched last year has done a good job and now most kids are recovered within 24 hours. Police is also playing their part, however chance of improvement is definitely there.”

Even though police is doing its bit, there are several loopholes. If kidnapped children return home on their own, police does not take action to catch the culprits. The process of registration of FIR is also not smooth and many policemen harass the complainants and ask for bribe. If kids remain unrescued for three years, they are put in ‘untraced’ category and no further efforts are made to recover them. The Supreme Court this year passed a slew of directions to handle the issue of missing children in the country while at the same time asking the government to fill up vacant positions in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights urgently.

The court also roped in the services of Faculty of Management Studies of Delhi University, asking its Director to examine the web portal of 'trackthemissingchild' and recommend improvements in it. The 
government for the first time plans to launch a web portal that can be accessed by a common man to upload visuals and details of missing children and help track them. The website khoyapaya.gov.in will act as an enabling platform for citizens to report missing children or those found as well as report sightings. The web portal has been initiated by the ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) along with the department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) and will be run with the assistance of a helpline and local police. It will be launched in June. As of now missing children can be tracked through trackthemissingchild.gov.in. However adding content to the site is restricted to police and authorised personnel.

Despite continued efforts of government, police and NGOs, thousands remain untraced raising questions on the effectiveness of these measures. Government needs to take stock of the situation and ensure safe recovery of these kids.

With the advancement in <g data-gr-id="317">technology</g> a lot can be achieved as Social media is a powerful tool which can help in the restoration of missing kids by spreading information and should be used to its 
full extent.
Shreyasi Jha

Shreyasi Jha

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