Our Constitution makers- eminent, illustrious and foresighted as they were- gave us a vibrant and unparalleled document. One of the articles, Article-23, prohibits human trafficking in any form. This means that not to be trafficked is a fundamental right. As a corollary, preventing human trafficking is a constitutional obligation for all of us- the law enforcement agencies, other wings of the government, non-governmental sector, private sector and every citizen of the country. While traffickers are on the prowl looking for vulnerable persons as their prey, the existing scenario of "missing children" provide a vast scope for them to exploit the situation with impunity. No doubt, the Action Research by the National Human Rights Commission on "Trafficking in Women and Children in India" in 2002-2004, had established the direct and disastrous linkage between 'human trafficking' and 'missing children'. The issue was flagged and the dimensions were thrown up by the NHRC in no uncertain terms. It exposed the response systems and made a clarion call for addressing the issue from a rights perspective. No doubt, the response has improved, at least in certain areas, thanks to the intervention of committed people hailing both from governmental and non-governmental sectors. These initiatives may be islands of excellence, but are not institutionalized. Therefore, the problem of "missing children" has grown not only in extent but also in intensity, as is evident from this report of Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
This is a document which can set the issue on fire. It is a call for action by all those who are concerned with human and child rights. Nobody can deny the data because it has been supplied by the official agencies in pursuance of notice under the RTI. Irrefutable is the fact that the problem of missing children has grown in geometrical proportion. While an average of 44,000 children were reported missing during the beginning of the decade, in a matter of 9-10 years, it has grown three times over! Also, the percentage of Children who remained untraced was 22% during the beginning of the decade, now has grown to 35%. Such revealing data is bound to shake up the minds of all. Nobody can rest in peace till appropriate solutions are identified and implemented. This study by Bachpan Bachao Andolan has also thrown up ideas for action. Kudos to the researchers and the vibrant community of BBA. It is indeed a path breaking and pioneering work into an unchartered territory. A commendable work indeed! The issues of missing children affects all of us and, therefore, addressing the problem is the responsibility of all of us. Silence and resilience should stop here. It is time to act.
One child goes missing every eight minutes in our country, or seven children every hour. 331 children went missing in India's capital between 1 June-18 July 2011, according to the zonal integrated police network (ZIPNET). According to the same source, the number of missing children in Delhi for the year so far is 921. Most of these children are within the age group 12-15 years.
This report by Bachpan Bachao Andolan reveals that 60,000 children went missing during the last year in 24 states. This data was based on the information that BBA received through Right to Information (RTI) from the police department. Ironically other states are not even able to provide complete information. It is a serious problem that has been growing day by day, unfortunately. A few years back, the number of missing children according to National Human Rights Commission report was 44,000.
Missing Children- a misleading connotation
The connotation "missing children" in it self is quite misleading. Children are no objects. Unlike inanimate things such as mobile phones, pens, bicycles or umbrellas, children are living beings who cry, get hungry and thirsty, need a shelter and place to sleep every day. Then why can't the police and other State agencies trace them? The reason is fairly simple. There is no political will, appropriate policies & legislations, proficiency and accountability among the state agencies to trace children that are lured away, kidnapped, trafficked, detained or trapped by nefarious elements primarily to derive monetary benefits. But it is also noteworthy that whenever a child from an affluent family goes missing, the same agencies do not leave any stone unturned to find the child. The media OB vans suddenly find a big story to boost their TRPs. Politicians and even ministries in a few cases become responsive and proactive in tracing the child. Since most of the missing children belong to economically weak families, migrants and slum dwellers, (who do not have money or approach) the police and administration remain inactive. In most cases, the poor parents are conveniently ignored or mistreated by the police.
Sunita, who came with her family, in search of livelihood to Delhi is an illiterate village woman from Uttar Pradesh. Her 8-year old son has been missing since 2009 from West Delhi. She told me "Whenever I go to police station to enquire about my son, they ask me to go and check on the Internet, I don't know what internet is." When Jameel, father of a 14 year-old missing girl went to lodge a complaint, the police officials went to the extent of saying that the girl might have eloped with her boy friend.
Most of the missing children end up in a situation of exploitation, maybe sold to work as bonded labourers or child prostitutes, as forced beggars, drug peddlers etc. It has been unearthed that children are sold for illicit trading of organs, legal/illegal adoptions, as child brides to Middle East men nearly five times their age or are even forced to become child combatants.
Recently, two young boys were found held in bondage and confined to work in an agricultural field in a village in Meerut. They were registered as missing children in Delhi. There was another incident whereby a group of 13 child beggars was rescued by NGOs and police from South Delhi. These children had gone missing from Jodhpur. As a matter of fact, they were trafficked and trapped by criminal gangs who engage children in forced beggary. Similarly, a 16 years old girl was recovered from Ajmer. She was lured away by some unscrupulous people to marry an old man from Dubai. However, her parents lodged a complaint at the police station in Delhi about her going missing. Delhi Police has recovered five young girls from a village in Alwar, Rajasthan who were reported missing from Delhi. They were kidnapped from a primary school and sold for prostitution. Obviously, the children that go missing are not always abducted from the streets.
Four problems that need to be tackled urgently The first is the policy gap. Second is knowledge gap. The third is the lack of coordination and fourth is moral deficit.
The very fact that there isn't any specific definition of missing children or its links with trafficking is a clear evidence of a policy gap that exists.
It is ironic that a missing child doesn't find a place in the legislative framework until and unless a complaint is made towards kidnapping or abduction under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Neither are the police personnel responsible for lodging the complaint properly trained or convinced to delve into the details nor are the parents aware of procedures. Therefore, except in a few places like Delhi where the Hon'ble High Court is strict and civil society extremely vigilant, the cases of missing children are not registered under the criminal law as First Information Report (FIR). In reality, the Government admits that complaints for 117,000 missing children were received in the last two years, but only 16,000 FIRs were eventually registered under the category of kidnapping. This is a very serious problem which requires immediate enactment / amendment in the law.
Similarly India has only one specific law on trafficking, i.e. Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (lTPA) which only deals with prostitution. In spite of a Constitutional provision to prohibit traffic in human beings and having ratified the Palermo Protocol on trafficking, an International legal instrument, India is yet to enact a definitive legislation on human trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, servitude, slavery, organ trade or similar situations of exploitation. Moreover, there is no common Standard Operating Procedure for the police on how to respond and solve cases related to missing children.
Knowledge deficit is another serious problem. There is no specialized agency to gather, manage, process and disseminate all possible data regarding missing children. National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) which records crime data at the national level has no specific focus on missing children. Their Talash Information System (TIS) tracks missing people who are kidnapped and the unclaimed dead. But their system of gathering data is more akin to old accountants recording expenses in manual ledgers. TIS collects data manually from police FIRS, press clippings, letters, pamphlets of missing people, police wireless records and has no clear methodology of gathering and collating such data. It is a pity that India, which boasts of being an Information Technology giant, has no proper database to collect such sensitive data and utilize it for the purpose of retrieving missing children.
An extension of knowledge deficit is the lack of capacity among the enforcement agencies to take action on cases of missing children. Government agencies, police and law enforcement agencies have had no training and are not sensitized enough on issues of missing children. There is no training or capacity building of these officials on national and international laws. In addition, there is a gross lack of awareness among the general public including teachers, neighbours, parents on what they could do or whom they should approach when their children go missing. Similarly, children are also not taught to raise an alarm, when strangers try to lure them in a bid to abduct them.
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