New Delhi, January 06 2011: On an average, 18 children go missing in Delhi everyday, says CRY. An estimated 44,000 children go missing annually from homes in slums or resettlement colonies in the capital. The numbers have been collected by CRY's partner, Navshristi, through questions filed to the Police Headquarters under the RTI (Right to Information Act).
"The issue was first brought to our notice by distraught parents who approached us for help after being turned away by local Police Stations in Nangloi," says Reena Bannerjee from Navshristi. "We took the cases straight to the DCP level, following which directives were sent to SHOs in local police stations to register the cases of missing children and to take action."
Evidence and testimonials by a few children who have been rescued, points to organised child trafficking rackets operating in the capital.
Eight-year-old Jyoti (name changed) is a small-framed child, fine structured, with luminous eyes. The child was sent by three adults, one of whom, traumatically for the child, was her own mother, to work as a live-in domestic servant at a rich Mumbai household.
Life back at home was not easy, with no school, an abusive mother and life in the Delhi slum of Sultanpuri. But what happened in Mumbai was a nightmare.
Jyoti was doing sweeping, mopping, utensils, dusting, running errands, washing clothes and any other work the adult employers decided she should be doing. There was no money paid ever to her, confirming the suspicion that her traffickers had supplied the child for a lumpsum payment.
"They beat me," Jyoti said.
In the end, Jyoti's distraught father, with the help of the Police, was able to get his daughter back and register a case against the traffickers. All three traffickers were taken into custody, including Jyoti's mother. The child was returned to her family.
Jyoti is obviously suffering from trauma and her family's below-poverty line status does not allow her father to take her for a medical checkup or to a child counsellor.
Since the traffickers are from the same community, Jyoti's father will not send her to school, fearing the child might get kidnapped again.
Listen to Jyoti's story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTSnmqIlAzo
West Delhi's crowded Nangloi area, packed with lorries spilling over with the city's waste, lines of cycle rickshaws crammed together and families uncomfortably settled among this chaotic environment, has been a setting for a silent threat stalking children.
As many as 419 children have gone missing from the west district, where Nangloi is. Forty-year-old Anuradha, a social worker in the area, had a first hand experience of this threat when her 17-year-old son, Sunny, failed to return home one day. After questioning Sunny's friends, the grief struck parents rushed to the police station to report the missing child. Instead of registering the case, the Police dismissed this as a panic reaction, asking the parents to find their child themselves.
By now frantic with worry and desperate for some clue, Anuradha and her husband, reached the gym Sunny had joined to investigate, where they learnt Sunny had made some new friends. In the meantime, Sunny's cousin received a distraught call from Sunny himself, saying he had gone with some of friends, except that he was scared and was afraid of calling his parents on account of being reprimanded.
The call was traced from a nearby railway station, where Sunny was on his way to being trafficked. The child later told his parents that his new found friends had promised a lot of 'fun' if he came with them, and he had gone, willingly. It was only after a day or two that he realised he was actually being enticed away with false promises.
Listen to Anuradha's story in her own words:
(part 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4MuSAriRBU
(part 2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di9luVKO9z0
Sultanpuri, a slum settlement in the north-west corner of India's sprawling Capital, is a community of workers working for a recycling factory, mattress makers, and sundry professions that are paid very low remunerations to find space in the non-slum areas.
Six-year-old Rehem's father works as a security guard in the city. Her mother stays at home, which is a one-room structure, with a kitchen attached. It is not unusual for children to be left in front of the houses, in the scrap of a space between the street and the room, playing among drying clothes and pickles, while the mothers finish household chores. Two-year-old Rehem was playing as usual when her mother suddenly noticed her gone.
"We raised a hue and cry, called the police, even took names of people in the neighbourhood we suspected to have picked up our child. But no one registered a case. We were asked to keep looking," says Rehem's father, Murad (name changed).
A long harrowing period of despair followed, in which the parents ran pillar to post trying to follow through the many leads. At the end of 10 months, the police called him, saying their child had been found. "I went to the police station but could not recognise my child. There were deep cuts and festering boils on her head, she was all skin and bones and very dark. In the end, I searched for a birth mark she had on her back to establish that this was Rehem indeed."
"Please do not publish my name, or my child's," he requests. "I don't want the traffickers to know we are speaking out." Rehem is six now, and readying to go to school. Luckily for her and her parents, she is a chirpy girl who seems to have forgotten all about her ordeal. "She never spoke about what happened," says her father, "Maybe because she hadn't learnt to speak yet."
Listen to Rehem's father's testimony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVXn4fRayPY
"We suspect class-based discrimination and/or apathy behind the fact that large numbers of missing children's cases don't make it to FIRs, with local police officers refusing to register the FIRs or keeping the cases buried in Daily Diaries, which don't count as legal, actionable cases," says Yogita Verma, Director, CRY. "We are working with local partners to make sure the shockingly large numbers of missing children don't remain among the Capital's most appalling secrets."
Studies have pointed out that 40% of India's commercial sex work involves children, which directly points at the missing children. "We are afraid that Delhi's slums, construction labourer's camps, child labourers, unauthorized settlements and resettlement colonies are becoming easy supply chains for organized crime that feeds into child trafficking in the country," says Verma.
Parents had led a spirited demonstration in the year 2008 in Jantar Mantar to demand police action in registering missing children's cases. Following this, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Children's Rights had identified the need to make it compulsory for any police station to register FIRs for any missing children's cases.
But two years down the line, the number of missing children shows no signs of reducing.
"It's unfortunate that Delhi as a capital has become a trouble-free playing field for the country's traffickers," says Reena Bannerjee. "Police action can help stem the disappearances and the brutal lives that kidnapped children are forced into."
Note to the Editor: CRY - Child Rights and You (earlier known as Child Relief and You) is India's leading advocate for child rights. For over 30 years, CRY has partnered with NGOs, communities, government, the media and is dedicated to mobilising all sections of society to eliminate the root causes of deprivation, exclusion, exploitation and abuse. For more information please visit us at http://www.cry.org/. For Further information, please contact: Child Rights and You (CRY)